The deadly building collapse of a high rise in Miami, Florida is capturing worldwide attention. A Phoenix structural engineer explains the chances of a building collapse happening here are unlikely.
“It is very rare for a building to collapse in the United States,” said John-Jozef Proczka, a structural plan s examiner with the city of Phoenix Planning and Development Department. “Building codes are updated frequently in Phoenix. We look at tragedies and failures around the world to determine if there should be additional code changes, so we have the largest chance possible of preventing a tragedy.”
There are no uniform building codes nationwide. Individual jurisdictions adopt their own codes. All the major cities tend to adopt similar codes. Building codes in Phoenix are updated every 6 years, the most recent round was adopted in 2018.
Proczka didn’t want to speculate on the exact cause of the collapse in Miami, but his professional eye is drawn towards a potential failure in the foundation, columns in the lower stories or soil towards the center of the building.
“Really to know why a building collapses is to understand why they aren’t all collapsing, why they stand up in the first place,” said Proczka. “There are a lot of components to a building. In a multi-story building foundations and columns have a lot of load at the bottom they are supporting. Any one of those components could conceivably fail and that is the point of having engineers design the buildings.”
Proczka says he and his team do find flaws at times in building plans that are submitted by design professionals.
“I’m impressed by the level of expertise of our staff,” he said. “We have licensed engineers and very experienced inspectors. We are doing a really good job in enforcing codes.”
Factors that could impact the stability of the building include deterioration caused by weather conditions, shifts in the soil or any alterations to the building unintentional or intentional, like a remodeling project that was not properly permitted.