Document Type

Working Paper

Publication Date



Researchers picking through the debris left by the Northridge earthquake in 1994 and Hurricane Andrew in 1992 found that building codes had not provided the degree of protection against damage many expected. This was due, in part, to a breakdown in code enforcement functions. In this paper, we provide evidence that the seismic provisions of codes receive rather low priority from many local building departments, even in areas of moderate to high seismic risk. Drawing lessons from the experience with programs to foster greater energy efficiency in buildings, we show there is much that can be done to improve the attention local governments give to the enforcement of the seismic provisions of building codes. The federal government and states can bring about greater emphasis on enforcement by requiring state governments to adopt and local governments to enforce building regulations with seismic provisions, by improving state capacity to oversee these functions, and by providing technical assistance to state and local code enforcement personnel.