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Preventing a building collapse: How Phoenix building inspections work

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Posted at 5:38 PM, Jun 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-26 00:44:47-04

PHOENIX — As we wait for investigation results from the Miami partial building collapse, ABC15 is going in-depth to better understand how buildings are kept safe in Phoenix and what you can do if you notice a potential problem.

In Phoenix, every single building needs to be approved by the city's planning and development department. According to a spokesperson for the department, in 2019, there were more than 30 major construction projects in the downtown area, with dozens more in the review process.

John-Jozef Proczka is the city's structural plans engineer. He's part of a team that makes sure buildings--commercial and residential--are up to code.

"The primary goal of building codes is life safety and a very big part of building codes is structural stability and structural strength," said Proczka.

The department does most of its reviews and inspections before the building even goes up, working with project architects and engineers to make sure the design is up to code. Engineers are also there during construction.

Once the building is up, there aren't any mandatory routine inspections, which are sometimes required in some parts of the country. For example in Miami-Dade County in Florida, most buildings must undergo an inspection every 40 years as part of a recertification process.

"There's no particular reason to think that existing buildings will have issues. We're a little bit fortunate in the Phoenix area that we're not in an environment similar to Florida where they have exposure to spray off the water where you will have potentially increased corrosion, not that we know at all what caused the collapse in Miami," said Proczka.

The city will get involved if builders want to make additions or changes to the structure or if there's a complaint.

"If it does actually appear to be unsafe, we try to categorize it as something as an imminent hazard or as a hazard that may come up later and it's something that we need them to fix but it may not collapse immediately," said Proczka.

If it's dangerous--the city can require the building to be evacuated or closed off until it's safe again.

In the Surfside building collapse in Miami, investigators still don't know what happened. Proczka said looking at videos, it seems there was some failure in the lower, center part of the building.

"Probably in the lower floors. Could've been a lower column, a lower wall, maybe even the foundation. It's quite possible there was an issue with the soil," he said.

Proczka said the industry learns from tragedies like the one in Florida. As cities --like Phoenix--look to adapt the most up-to-date building codes.

"As the industry learns more, as structural engineers learn more and we see more collapses and causes of collapses, we can try to plug in any holes in the design or enforcement of the buildings," said Proczka.

If you have concerns about construction without a permit, you can file a report with the city here.

Residents can submit property violations through Phoenix At Your Service (PAYS) online or contact the city’s Planning & Development Department by phone at 602-262-7811 or email at pdd@phoenix.gov.