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[SEAOC] "Which Direction for Building Codes?" by Charles O. Greenlaw, S.E.

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The following message is taken, in part, from the April 1995 issue of "In This 
Corner", a monthly feature in the Structural Association of Central California's 
newsletter written by Charles O. Greenlaw, S. E., 4208 B Street, Sacramento, CA 

"The following article attempts to tie together several topics that have 
building codes, and their profound impacts on us, as the common thread.  The 
opinions expressed are intended to be provocative and informative.  They are not 
the official position of the Structural Engineers Association of California.

"As an opener, I reprint a paragraph that appeared among some Seismology 
committee documents about twelve years ago, its author unknown but much 

"The Code Problem
'The problem of code proliferation in an attempt to make codes into handbooks to 
replace analysis by engineers, and to make the code reflect all of the research 
results, has been well recognized.  Engineers are in general agreement that this 
proliferation should be controlled because more complex codes are not the answer 
to the need for effective, efficient design.  Engineers should do more than 
agree on this.  They should go to work to streamline the present codes and 
restrict the complexities of new codes.  This means resisting the inclusion in 
codes of any complicated criteria which cannot be readily understood by the 
practicing design engineer, and any restraints on design not fully justified.'

"In the last few years, the Structural Engineers Association of Central 
California's Code Committee has been following the above principles consistently 
and resolutely.  Other committees there and elsewhere, particularly code 
committees in other Sections of SEAOC, appear to be strongly included in the 
other direction, toward code expansion and 'complexification'."
"Now this year comes very powerful backing, indeed almost total vindication of 
the SEAOCC's vision for the building code.  Just as the anonymous Seismology 
commentor said a dozen years ago, so does today's best-selling author on 
regulatory laws, Philip K. Howard in "The Death of Common Sense": 'Our 
regulatory system has become an instruction manual.  Detailed rule after 
detailed rule addresses every eventuality, or at least every situation lawmakers 
and bureaucrats can think of.'  He asks, 'Is it a coincidence that almost every 
encounter with government is an exercise in frustration?'

"According to Howard, the dominant theme in formulation codes and regulations in 
recent years is 'almost a religious tenet' to make rules as precise, 
comprehensive, and finely detailed as possible.  The goal is to cover every 
eventuality so that the outcomes will be both certain and uniform for all.  The 
use of flexibility and judgment by either the complying person or the enforcer 
is to be avoided at all costs.  The words of rules will tell us exactly what to 
do and not do, so that judgment will be precluded.  The well-intended benefits 
of this approach are to prevent mistakes and errors, and to ensure fairness and 
non-discrimination, by means of covering everything in advance and by preventing 
use of discretion and possible abuse by officials.".......(And there is more.)

Charles O. Greenlaw, S. E.

I believe this article is to important I will send a copy of the entire article 
to persons in the United States who send me a self-addressed 32 cent stamped 
business envelope to Frank E. McClure, 54 Sleepy Hollow Lane, Orinda, CA 94563. 

There are and have been many dedicated members of the SEAOC and other 
organizations who have given freely of their quality time through the 
years for the development of the NEHRP Recommended Provisions for Seismic 
Regulations for New Buildings and the International Conference of Building 
Officials Uniform Building Code seismic provisions.

Maybe it is time to step back and review what has been accomplished.  Maybe we 
have gotten everything right but the answer.

Frank McClure    fmcclure(--nospam--at)    File Green.txt