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One year after Surfside, is enough being done to keep you safe in the sky?

Posted at 4:25 PM, Jun 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-16 18:42:40-04

SURFSIDE, Fla. — Nearly a year after the 12-story Champlain Towers South Condo building partially collapsed investigations into what happened are still ongoing.

98 people died after the building collapsed around 1:22 a.m. on the morning of June 24, 2021.

Later investigations would find the building was in dire need of structural repair.

Right now, six different investigative teams are still searching for answers to keep this from ever happening again.

Last week, investigators with the National Institute of Standards and Technology gave their first update in months.

“This is a 40-year-old building and there are many buildings like it constructed in the US and across the world,” said Judith Mitrani-Reiser with NIST.

For many, as that search for answers continues, the context of what this means resonates across the Sunshine State.

According to a staff analysis by the Florida State Senate, there are more than 1.5 million condo units throughout the state.

More than half of them, 60%, were built more than 30 years ago, just like the building in Surfside.

In the year since the state has made moves to try to prevent a similar tragedy.

Last month, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a new condo safety law that calls for condo buildings, three stories and higher, to be recertified after 30 years.

According to the state senate analysis, more than two million people live in buildings that would be impacted by the law, that’s roughly 10% of the state’s population.

Until the law was signed, only Broward and Miami-Dade counties required older buildings to get recertification.

The Champlain Towers South condo was in the middle of its 40-year recertification when it collapsed.

“Recertification, the time period of 40 years is too long. Way too long,” said Dr. Atorod Azizinamini, the Director of the Moss School of Construction, Infrastructure, and Sustainability at Florida International University.

“Recertification is important, but it has to be coupled with good inspection and good methods,” said Dr. Azizinamini.

The new law calls for stricter recertification codes for buildings within three miles of the coast.

“There is a huge difference between being away from the salt water and being right next to the salt water. There’s a huge difference,” said Fire Official Jennifer Campbell with the Fort Myers Beach Fire Control District.

Before any new building is opened to the public on the beach, Campbell and her team inspect the high-rise commercial and condo buildings.

The town code also calls for safety inspections every year.

“If we see cracking, does that cracking look serious? We may say, ‘hey, we’re going to forward this along to our building inspector.’ There’s a lot that goes into it,” Campbell said.

“I’ve seen rebar failing. I’ve seen concrete failing. I’ve, actually, seen a concrete stairwell in a building, once, collapse that we’ve had to deal with. So, yeah, we’ve seen it.”

The new condo safety law, which goes into effect in 2024, also requires condo associations to have enough money in savings for major repairs.

If inspectors find issues that must be fixed work has to begin within the year.

The condo boards can’t put it off.

“A lot of times the law has to prod these people along who aren’t necessarily engineers, they aren’t contractors. They have a different mentality,” said Greg Batista, an engineer who specializes in concrete repair projects and high-rise buildings in South Florida.

Batista says he was hired to do a water-proofing job at the Champlain Towers South, several years before the collapse when he noticed an issue.

“I told them and my engineer told them, ‘you have a concrete repair problem. This water-proofing project is just a band-aid,’” said Batista.

In the year since the tragedy, Batista has written a book, Negligence! Averting Disaster at Your Building, to explore what went wrong.

“Most importantly, the book exposes how widespread these issues are among aging buildings today, especially in coastal areas,” a press release for the book states.

Batista says he’ll donate profits from the book to the American Red Cross.

Federal investigators say it could take a year, or even two, before a definitive answer to what went wrong will be found.

Dr. Azizinamini believes finding the exact cause of the collapse is important, but it’s not where our attention should be focused.

“Our attention should be more on finding buildings that need to be retrofitted and retrofit or upgrade them using sound methods,” said Dr. Azizinamini. “And there are sound methods available.”

“It’s unfortunate that it’s incidents like this that cause things to be reactionary,” said Campbell. Where we say ‘let’s do something’ yeah that’s great. Let’s do something. Let’s take care of it.”

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