Iowa, with or without the candidates

By Nola Lebrecht December 2, 2015

Every four years around this time, Iowa gets a lot of attention. The presidential campaign season officially starts here with the Iowa caucuses. Presidential aspirants are everywhere—speaking at farms, airplane hangars, high school auditoriums, senior centers, diners, and factories.

If there’s one thing every candidate and audience member can agree upon (and there may be only one thing), it’s that everyone wants to make sure those places of assembly, restaurants, and workplaces are safe. Every structure should be of sound construction, sustainable in a natural disaster, and compliant with the most current building codes. The job of enforcing those standards lies with the local building code enforcement agency, usually the municipal building department.

Building code officials may not get as much attention as the quadrennial visitors to Iowa, but they should. Nationally, building code officials are stretched for resources. Their funding is usually dependent on similarly stretched municipal governments and the often undependable and indeterminate funding source of user fees. On average, every building code official in Iowa is serving 4,506 members of the population. And if that seems like a lot, it’s almost 20 percent better than the national average of 5,550.

Left to right: Del Amsden and Nola Lebrecht, ISO Community Hazard Mitigation, BCEGS; Linda Rivers, Building Official, Walcott, Iowa; Cody Christensen, Deputy Building Official, Des Moines, Iowa, and President of the Iowa Association of Building Officials; and Brian Bishop, Iowa State Fire Marshal’s Office.

So, although Iowa building code officials are always looking for ways to improve their communities’ codes and enforcement, they need to allocate their time and resources wisely. That’s why my colleague Del Amsden and I were particularly pleased when Linda Rivers, building code official for the city of Walcott, Iowa, asked us to speak before the Iowa Association of Building Officials (IABO) at their meeting in Des Moines.

Rivers and her colleagues wanted to hear about ISO’s Building Code Effectiveness Grading Schedule (BCEGS®), which assesses the building codes in effect in a community and how well they’re enforced. It was a great opportunity to explain the benefits of BCEGS for their departments and communities and how the information is integrated into the property insurance underwriting process.

The bottom line for our message was simple: Municipalities with well-enforced, up-to-date codes should demonstrate better loss experience, and insurance rates can reflect that. The prospect of lessening catastrophe-related damage and ultimately lowering insurance costs provides an incentive for communities to enforce their building codes rigorously—especially as they relate to windstorm and earthquake damage.

Quite frankly, it’s not uncommon for building code officials to be less than enthusiastic about taking the time to participate in BCEGS. They’re often uncertain about the benefit to their community for the perceived time investment. But our BCEGS field staff works to make the process as positive as possible for building code officials. Based on the response and insightful questions that came from our Iowa presentation, I can assure you it was well received.

Almost all states have some sort of building code official group, whether one large, statewide group or various local chapters. Their regular meetings are excellent opportunities to explain the BCEGS program in detail and answer questions from a larger audience of code officials. ISO has informative presentations about BCEGS tailored for every region of the country, making each relevant to the specific audience.

If you’re a building code official and want to have us present at your next meeting, or you just want more information about the BCEGS program, please go to the ISO Community Hazard Mitigation website. We have staff from coast to coast ready to assist your community’s building department.


Nola Lebrecht

Nola Lebrecht is an ISO Community Hazard Mitigation BCEGS® Field Analyst.