The U.S. is the only major developed nation in the world that does not have a single coordinated family of construction codes and standards. While efforts were initiated in the 1990s to rectify that situation, the breakup earlier this decade of negotiations between the International Code Council (ICC) and National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) is negatively impacting the cost of construction in our nation.
The ongoing acrimonious competition between these two organizations to gain the adoption of their respective building codes by state and local governments comes at a cost to our nation, the construction community and state and local governments. We don�t need this struggle at this time of heightened national security, sharply reduced government operating budgets and a fiercely competitive global marketplace.
Last November, the National Governors Association distributed a report prepared by the National Conference of States on Building Codes and Standards (NCSBCS) updating the governors on the status of this conflict. The report documented the current situation under which state and local governments are spending precious manpower resources doing repetitive comparative analysis and holding round after round of public hearings on the technical provisions of both building codes.
The NCSBCS report noted that not only is this duplication putting a tremendous drain on limited resources, it also is significantly slowing down the process and time frame during which communities are able to adopt updated versions of their construction codes.
Moreover, at a time when it is in our nation�s vital interest for our building and fire services to work together, important public servants are becoming adversaries.
In preparing its report, NCSBCS issued several letters calling upon the leadership of these two code organizations to come to the table. So far, they have not met. A subsequent NCSBCS report has requested that the governors use their good offices to bring these parties back to the table. The report also has been reviewed and is gaining support from several national trade associations.
Other professional societies and trade associations now need to weigh in on this matter. Industry support to bring ICC and NFPA together to develop a mechanism establishing a coordinated family of construction codes and standards is critical if we are to enhance public safety.
At the close of the 19th Century and beginning of the 20th, a number of major U.S. cities suffered devastating losses of life and property from fires. Adding to those losses was the simple fact that the �free market place� had worked without uniform standards for fire hose and hydrant connections. Fire companies from neighboring jurisdictions arrived and could only stand idly by and watch the city burn because their hoses would not connect to that city�s fire hydrants.
At the World Trade Center on 9/11, first responders and engineers arriving from jurisdictions in New Jersey, Long Island and other New York suburbs were faced with a similar dilemma. Not only were their communications systems not standardized, but the construction codes and standards they enforced were different enough from those of New York City that engineers were limited in the professional expertise they could offer.
New York City and New York State have taken steps to address this problem by moving toward adopting a compatible set of coordinated codes and standards. At the same time, neighboring states are being lobbied as part of the NFPA/ICC code competition to adopt construction codes that may not be readily compatible.
Our nation, our construction industry, building product manufacturers and suppliers, our first responders and most of all our citizens deserve better. We urge you to add your voice to those of a number of your colleagues in the construction industry and building regulatory communities to get ICC and the NFPA to the table to work cooperatively together to produce the coordinated cohesive family of construction codes our nation deserves.