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The ebb and flow of property risk

If you've ever spent time in a coastal community, you know residents and businessowners pay a lot of attention to ebb and flow. Their very existence may depend on the tides - for fishing and boating; swimming, recreation, and tourism; and storm surge risk. However, as we were recently reminded, there's also an ebb and flow that affects building codes.

Maine coastline
The beautiful Maine coastline presents challenges for commercial property insurers who try to estimate storm surge risk. Photo courtesy of Michael Porter.

A representative from ISO Community Hazard Mitigation's Building Code Effectiveness Grading Schedule (BCEGS®) team visited a coastal town in Maine to do what we do for more than 21,000 municipalities in the country: evaluate the suitability, effectiveness, and enforcement of local building codes.

Summertime population swells

The idyllic community had a population of less than 1,000, but this number swelled to more than 10,000 during tourist season.

Every summer, the town underwent a near total transformation with the ebb and flow of tourists and vacationers. However, its building codes remained stuck in off-season mode. Maine doesn't require towns with less than four thousand residents to adopt the state's stronger codes.

Enforcing codes ten-years old

Officially, the town fell under that threshold and was enforcing codes more than ten years old. ISO evaluates communities on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 representing exemplary building code enforcement. As a result of the town's old codes, its grade was a 10.

The community's new building official was eager to make improvements to his department and BCEGS grade. He realized the old codes were a problem, as was the risk of having so many summertime residents. Several weeks later, after working with the official on the town's options, he informed us they were adopting the state codes, even though it was not mandatory. We put him in contact with our National Processing Center (NPC), and together they continued to work on ways to improve the grading.

Normally, the NPC starts by sending a letter to the community with charts that show the deficiencies and why it lost points on our BCEGS. The community has a month to respond; if there's no response, a second letter is sent giving the town two more weeks to make its intentions known. Still no response? The NPC follows up with e-mails and phone calls if necessary. Fortunately, in this case the building department was very cooperative.

After working with the staff at the NPC, the community went from a grade 10 to a grade 5. Quite an accomplishment.

Insurers, building officials, and our BCEGS team know the destruction that storm surges, wind, nor'easters, and other perils cause. Now, in one more community there's a deeper understanding and appreciation for building codes that reflect a town's reality - through all seasons, population spurts, and ebb and flow.

For more information on BCEGS, please visit the ISO Community Hazard Mitigation website.

Robin Gruter

Robin Gruter is a field analyst at ISO Community Hazard Mitigation and can be contacted at

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