...something really out there, [the question] always in the back of your mind is, do you want to be the first one to allow something?" says Isam Hasenin, San Diego’s chief building official.

Though other nations have them, performance codes are a "radically new concept for Americans," says Gary Lewis, the building official in Summit, N.J., who is one of a few PBD "indoctrinees," thanks to his experience as chair of a performance code committee for the International Code Council, a model code developer.

There is a way around the roadblock. U.S. codes have long allowed the designer to submit a PBD under an "alternate method of design" clause. There’s a big catch, though. In this scenario, the official is left to judge whether the proposed design is "satisfactory" and "complies with the intent of the provisions of the code...."

"When you have a prescriptive requirement, you had better make sure your alternate is going to provide the same level of protection," warns Hasenin.

But "satisfactory" to some is unsatisfactory to others. With PBD approvals, by definition, there are no "standard answers," says Jonathan Siu, principal engineer in Seattle’s Dept. of Planning and Development. Several years ago, Siu’s department approved MKA’s alternate approach, rejected in San Diego. The 450-ft-tall IDX Tower opened two years ago.

Without compliance standards, "every review becomes a research project," says Chris Poland, chairman, CEO and president of structural consultant Degenkolb Engineers, San Francisco.

Technical standards would be tough to write. That leaves administrative standards. Toward that end, The Society of Fire Protection Engineers, Bethesda, Md., developed The Code Official’s Guide to Performance-Based Design Review, published last year with ICC. The concepts "may be applicable" to PBD in general, not only fire PBD, says the guide.

SFPE decided to develop the guide based on results of a 2000 survey of code officials. Of respondents, 60% stated that they would seek assistance when they reviewed a PBD; 35% said they were comfortable with performance-based design; 50% were hesitant; and 15% reluctant.

To date, 9,000 copies have been sold. SFPE is holding a seminar on the guide March 14-17 in Orlando. A second program is planned for September. It’s all about educating the officials, says Lewis.

In 2000, SFPE published the Engineering Guide to Performance-Based Fire Protection, with the National Fire Protection Association, Quincy, Mass. To date, 2,232 copies have been sold.

The guides "reflect the latest thinking," says Carl F. Baldassarra, president of fire protection consultant Schirmer Engineering Corp., Chicago. "Following the procedure lends the design professional credibility in the eyes of the building official," he says.

Efforts to develop PBD tools first began 35 years ago but died on the vine in the late 1970s . This time around, PBD started in the seismic world. In 1995, the Structural Engineers Association of California produced a two-volume guide called Performance Based Seismic Engineering of Buildings. FEMA 356, for seismic upgrades, has been in development for more than a decade. The standard, due out next year, will allow...