FEMA Regulations and Structural Engineering
The relationship between FEMA and structural engineering is an important one. The Federal Emergency Management Agency or FEMA is the agency of government that works towards preventing, assessing, and managing disastrous situations that affect the general public of our country. This agency uses regulations and guidelines to impose building codes that structural engineering must adhere to in order to meet FEMA standards and be as safe as possible in the event of an emergency.
FEMA building codes include provisions for maintaining, designing, building and altering structures and outlines how to engineer within these guidelines to ensure that buildings meet the standards they have of safeguarding the health and safety of the public and the building’s occupants. These standards are outlined and should be enforced by state and local governments so that all buildings – including buildings established before the guidelines were put in place are as structurally sound and as safe as possible in case of an emergency.
The International Code Council makes building codes simple and standardized so that states and local governments can adopt these uniform policies rather than developing their own. The ICC is supported by FEMA as the correct standard for basic building in compliance with soundness and safety standards and the code specifies separate rules, standards, and regulations for different types of buildings by separating them into three categories: new buildings, existing buildings, and residential buildings.
Seismic codes are in place to ensure that buildings and structures are capable of withstanding an earthquake without collapsing or endangering occupants. Through constant research and data collection these guidelines evolve and are updated to ensure that the risk to structures posed by earthquakes is as minimal as possible. Though these provisions are in place to inform design and keep buildings safe they are often pushed aside by state and local governments when it comes to enacting them in their area. Structural engineers should see it as their responsibility to be aware of and adhere to seismic codes regardless of whether the area enforces these rules or not.
In addition to a civic responsibility to make structures as sound as possible in order to ensure public safety, structural engineers should be concerned that if a disaster occurs and a building collapse is found to have been preventable if FEMA seismic codes had been met that engineer or the company they work for could be held liable by the state, government and any victims who suffer injuries or damages from such negligence. Structural engineers in areas that do enforce these seismic codes must be conscious of them and include provisions to meet them from the very beginning of their planning and design process. Government officials and agencies in these areas will approve or deny building permits based on a review of the plans and will revoke permits during routine and regular inspections of the structure should any violations of seismic code regulations be found and until these oversights are corrected.