We Must Ensure That Hawaii Condos and Buildings Are Upkept and Safe

As of press time, emergency rescue teams continue to search for missing residents (151; 10 already died) of the collapsed Champlain Towers South condominium in Surfside, Florida. The images on television of search-and-rescue crews going through slabs of concrete and metal rubble searching for survivors, knowing how critical each second is, is extremely disheartening and difficult to watch. It’s an epic catastrophe; and hopefully by the time this article comes out all the remaining missing would have been found and are safely reunited with their family and friends. We are praying.

While investigations are ongoing, it’s certain many of Hawaii’s condominium residents and high- and low-rise building workers are feeling uneasy about their own safety.

We will need a definitive explanation for how this disaster could have happened for everyone to learn from – from structural engineers, geologists, soil erosion experts, to construction contractors, workers and materials manufacturers.

What we do know so far is three years before the deadly collapse of the Champlain Towers South condominium complex, a consultant found evidence of “major structural damage” to the concrete slab below the pool deck, as well as cracking and crumbling of columns, beams and walls of the parking garage.

The engineer’s report was a basis for a multimillion-dollar repair project that was to start soon. But that plan came too late.

Questions Needing Answers
For those living in and working in buildings in Hawaii and elsewhere, especially building associations, managers – perhaps there are questions you should be getting answers to.

Are there red flags in your own building? Has anything critical been ignored? If safety recertification is needed, when and what is the process?  If you are in an older building, are there irregularities you’ve noticed but just did not report? Are inspectors doing their job properly?

Buildings just don’t collapse in developed countries. Building codes are strict in the US so this disaster is something we all need answers to.

Residents and workers in buildings deserve to be safe and know what’s happening in the maintenance of their building. Building associations should be providing the status of major repairs particularly when it comes to recommended structural work where the integrity of a building comes into question. A budget of estimated cost of repairs to owners of units in buildings, as is usually done in pro forma, is insufficient. Building association boards must provide detailed information where potential dangers exist, if there are any.

In the Champlain Towers complex’s case, management association had disclosed some of the problems after the collapse.

Were residents informed of this structural problem before the collapse? It was city officials who informed the media of a 2018 report that explained the full extent of the concrete and rebar damage — most of it probably caused by years of exposure to the corrosive salt air along the South Florida coast, the report states.

As a beach, tropical community, are building codes for Hawaii buildings considering salt erosion as potential for compromising buildings structure-wise? And what are the remedies?

Hawaii state and county officials should also be paying close attention to the unfolding developments in Florida. Are building codes and certification and recertification requirements up to par. Are our building inspectors qualified and following enforcement guidelines?

Do we have an adequate emergency plan in place, especially knowing that we live on an island isolated, and response time is critical? Do we have experts here and emergency protocol set for federal, state and county to respond expeditiously?In Hawaii, many of our condominiums were built in the 1960s and ‘70s and are reaching a point where they will need major infrastructure improvement, especially if upkeep has been put off. Usually upkeeps are done to maintain buildings’ value and marketability. Given what happened in Florida, safety must take top priority.

Fears to be kept in check
Just as people need more care as we age, it isn’t different for buildings. This is natural. There should be no reason to have paranoia over living and working in an older building. In many parts of the world there are buildings hundreds of years old that are still occupied and livable. As long as buildings are maintained and recertification followed properly and thoroughly, there shouldn’t be problems.

What’s important to stress here is transparency, safety and prevention.

Residents and workers in buildings from low to high rises expect that the necessary upkeeps are being done. It’s something we don’t give a second thought about. Perhaps it’s time we pay more attention to, not panic or have unfounded fears over, but to pay attention that steps are being taken to ensure our safety.

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