2.7: Case Study: The Politics of Hazard Mitigation
- Page ID
St. Louis, Missouri lies in the New Madrid Fault Zone and most of its buildings are vulnerable unreinforced masonry structures. In 1976, the Department of Housing and Urban Development escalated the seismic standards for Federal Housing Authority and Veterans Administration loans in this region from the Building Officials and Code Administrators’ (BOCA) Basic Building Code to the more stringent Uniform Building Code (UBC) Zone II requirements (Drabek, Mushkatel & Kilijanek, 1983). Concerned about the effect on new construction, local developers, contractors and officials sought technical assistance in challenging the policy. HUD officials viewed local opposition as a threat to their entire policy, which they felt was more than adequately justified by the safety threat to local residents. However, technical experts attacked the scientific basis for HUD’s policy with the assertions that inclusion of St. Louis in Zone II was a cartographic error, the assumed 300-500 year return intervals were in error, and projected damage from a repeat of the 1811-1812 earthquakes was overestimated. The city lobbied the local HUD office to request that the HUD Secretary exempt St. Louis from the seismic requirements and asked its congressional delegation, the Home Builder’s Association, and public interest groups to support this request. By 1981, the BOCA I Code was used for all structures except multifamily housing rehabilitation projects, where the UBC Zone II requirements were applied. Even the impact of this requirement was minimal because it was enforced by the HUD regional office in Kansas City and the local HUD office in St. Louis, not by the city or county of St. Louis. Consequently, most engineers and developers contacted by Drabek and his colleagues were uncertain about which standards should be applied.