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HALL OF SHAME: Memphis/Shelby County, Tennessee Board of Commissioners

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In 2013 the Memphis/Shelby County, TN Board of Commissioners updated their building codes to the International Code Council’s (ICC) 2012 International Residential Code (IRC), but failed to approve the seismic provisions that has been strongly recommended.

[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text letter_spacing=”” el_class=”lead”]The New Madrid Fault is the most significant earthquake hazard east of the Rocky Mountains. It extends for 150 miles from southern Illinois to eastern Tennessee. Memphis, with a metropolitan area population of 1.3 million, sits squarely in its danger zone. Five earthquakes with an 8.0 magnitude occurred during four months between 1811 and 1812. In 1976 and 1990 earthquakes of 5.0 and 4.8 struck. Scientists predict a 40% chance of a 6.0 or greater earthquake in the next 50 years; potentially a 10% chance of an 8.0 event.[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text letter_spacing=””]Unfortunately Memphis has done little about it, other than prepare to respond and alert people to defend themselves when it strikes. There has been a tug-of-war on one side between scientists, insurers and disaster groups, versus homebuilders, developers and special interests on the other. The latter have opposed code improvements even though Tennessee passed a law requiring stronger seismic standards. In 2012 the state received $10 million in federal funds for disaster resilience and response, with an understanding it would improve codes.
ICC supplied model residential and commercial codes with seismic provisions. However local officials have repeatedly delayed implementation. Reasons argued by opponents include cost, ‘affordability’ and even the denial of a serious earthquake risk. The cost of stronger codes was estimated at $2,500-$3,000 per home, or 1-2 $/sf.
In 2012 opposing interests even tried to repeal the state law. When in 2013 the Commission passed the 2012 IRC, it did so with a loophole (labeled alternative compliance scheme) for the seismic provisions: ‘A Joint Ordinance amending the 2012 Memphis and Shelby County Joint Residential Code by providing an alternative compliance method for construction of detached one and two family dwellings when wood framing is used to meet structural seismic requirements and setting a new effective date for all of the structural provisions of that code.’

The members of Memphis/Shelby County’s Board of Commissioners should reflect on their irresponsible and neglectful actions. We will remind them of their accountability when one-day seismic disaster strikes.

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Additional Hall Items

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Hall of Fame

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Hall of Shame

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