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'Is my building safe?' Building collapse prompts review of building ordinances across Florida

Posted at 6:45 AM, Jun 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-29 09:45:16-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Ever since the partial collapse of the Champlain Towers South condominium building early Thursday in Surfside, Florida, a building official in nearby Palm Beach County has said, people who live in high-rise buildings are calling his office.

"A lot of people are scared and worried," building official Doug Wise said Monday. "Is my building safe?"

The tragedy is sparking a review and conversation since, at the moment, Palm Beach County does not have a recertification ordinance for high-rise structures.

"We have an unsafe building ordinance that was adopted many years ago, so if somebody reports something wrong, we go out and inspect and, if needed, we make them get an engineer," Wise said when asked why Palm Beach County does not have such an ordinance.

Doug Wise, Palm Beach County building official discusses safety of high-rise buildings, June 28, 2021
"We have an unsafe building ordinance that was adopted many years ago, so if somebody reports something wrong, we go out and inspect and, if needed, we make them get an engineer," Palm Beach County building official Doug Wise says.

In an email, Palm Beach County Administrator Verdenia Baker told commissioners and other county officials Sunday that she already started discussing with staff "the review of our rules and regulations and how best to address recertification of high-rise structures."

Email from Verdenia Baker
This is the email that Verdenia Baker sent to Palm Beach County officials after the Surfside building collapse.

Wise hopes to bring municipalities, public and private groups to the table since each jurisdiction has autonomy across the county.

"Palm Beach County administration has directed me to look to invite stakeholders in to discuss implementing a certification program if that's appropriate for Palm Beach County," Wise said. "We're going to decide if we need to implement something immediately here, what it would like."

Boca Raton Mayor Scott Singer said conversations have already started in his city.

"People are saddened beyond belief about what we saw in Surfside, and we want to make sure it's never repeated," he said. "We're going to work to make sure we find the best practices to prevent a tragedy like this one from ever happening again."

Rescuers cut into slab of concrete at Champlain Towers South condo collapse site, June 28, 2021
Rescue workers cut into a large slab of concrete at the Champlain Towers South condo collapse site, June 28, 2021, in Surfside, Fla.

Wise added that he doesn't think residents in high-rise structures in Palm Beach County should be concerned about the structural integrity of their buildings.

"I don't think so," he said. "We have all dedicated our lives to make sure these buildings are safe."

Wise said he hopes to bring the parties to the table as early as next week to discuss.

West Palm Beach is also considering a 40-year safety inspection program as well.

This story was originally published by Michael Buczyner on Scripps station WPTV in Palm Beach, Florida.