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Super Storm Sandy highlights need for revised building codes

New York City’s building codes must be revised to ensure structures can cope with future major storm events, engineers based in the city said this week.

They stressed the need to revise the codes to prevent widespread damage to buildings following a major storm, as happened during Hurricane Sandy.

“Change will only be through legislation,” said consultant WSP Flack & Kurtz executive vice president Gary Pomerantz.

“It will have resistance as it will cost building owners money.”

Power outages caused by Hurricane Sandy affected more than 600,000 people in the city for over three days. Seventy thousand were still without power more than a week later.

Pomerantz - who sits on the New York City Buildings Department panel advising on its mechanical code - called for a discussion about what is needed to ensure safety of life during serious flooding and power outages.

Hurricane Sandy devastated many buildings on the coast of Lower Manhattan, Long Island and the Jersey Shore. Large commercial and residential buildings suffered lower amounts of structural damage but are uninhabitable as seawater has damaged boilers, electrical panels and generators located in their basements.

But many more buildings were also without power as NCE went to press.

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Pomerantz said he would expect calls for more emergency back-up generators to help provide vital water critical for public health.

Consultant Thornton Tomasetti managing principal Gary Panariello predicted that there would be a need for more duplication of services to ensure buildings are not so vulnerable to the effects of flooding.

“Some of these basements are devastated and will take a long time to fix,” said Panariello. “But above the second floor the building is fine.”

Many of the flooded buildings were located in a one in 100 year storm flood plain.

New York City’s building codes - last revised in 2008 - require new buildings constructed in the flood plain to have flood mitigation measures.

But buildings already in the flood zone are not mandated to be improved.

Consultant Langan senior principal George Leventis said that with high water levels, this policy needed a re-think.

“Do we argue this [Hurricane Sandy] is a fiendish event?” said Leventis. “Or with rising sea levels do we have to rethink the code”.

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