Creating a Consensus Seismic Conformity Standard

Creating a Consensus Seismic Conformity Standard

This piece was originally published in the September 2018 issue of electroindustry.

Philip Caldwell, Edison Expert, External Affairs, Schneider Electric

Imagine rewinding history to the early 20th century and removing conformity Standards and third-party certification for the electrical industry. With no industry consensus Standard, each item of electrical equipment would have to satisfy the conformity policies of each inspection jurisdiction on a building-by-building basis. Chaos would rule.

For more than 100 years, however, our electrical safety system has allowed our industry to innovate, grow, and thrive because of conformity. The premise of the above thought experiment is difficult to imagine.

Yet there are the disrupters—in this case, earthquakes. Electrical equipment must be designed to withstand seismic loads.

The International Code Council introduced a prescriptive seismic qualification requirement for electrical equipment in the 2000 International Building Code® (IBC). The seismic code disruption was elevated to a critical electrical industry issue in 2008 when California changed the basis of the enforceable California Building Code (CBC) from the 1997 Uniform Building Code (with no equipment qualification requirements) to the 2006 IBC (with equipment seismic qualification requirements).

The first California Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) to feel the impact of full compliance with the electrical equipment qualification requirements of the IBC was the statewide jurisdiction responsible for licensing healthcare, OSHPD. Lacking electrical industry Standards on which to base seismic conformity to the CBC, OSHPD was forced to adopt internally derived policies.

Today, seismic conformity in our industry is challenged with a reality very similar to the imagination experiment above. Stakeholders face the daunting task of satisfying conformity policies of each inspection jurisdiction on a building-by-building basis. That reality grows in complexity as each AHJ with moderate to high seismic risk moves incrementally toward full IBC compliance.

With a decade of lessons learned from full enforcement based on conformity policies created outside of our industry, we are in an excellent position to create a consensus seismic conformity Standard. Endorsed by all stakeholders, it would greatly simplify the IBC certification process while bringing it into the mainstream of safety.

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