The Jerusalem Post
Could Surfside-style collapse happen here?
After the collapse last week of the condominium tower in Surfside, Florida, which has claimed the lives of at least 18 victims, people are wondering if something similar could happen in Israel.
While investigators have not concluded what caused nearly half of the 40-year-old high-rise to suddenly collapse, reports indicate that deep structural problems were known and ignored. Fortunately, new construction requirements are set to go into effect in Israel next week that will add new levels of safety to the building process.
For some, the disaster immediately drew a comparison to the Versailles wedding hall disaster of 2001, when 23 guests at a wedding died as the floor collapsed. That tragedy was attributed to the use of Pal-Kal, a lightweight construction method that was banned in Israel shortly after the event, as well as a decision by the wedding hall owners to remove necessary support walls. The engineer was ultimately arrested and indicted for manslaughter.
The recent tragedy in
Meron, where 45 people died at the tomb of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai on Lag Ba’omer, is another recent example where the negligence of proper safety codes led to disaster.
Following the Versailles incident and a state commission set up to investigate it, Israel has created new private control institutes to address one of the biggest problems in the construction industry.
How the world’s Jewish community came together to bring aid to Surfside, Page 6
“The problem in Israel has been that no one actually comes to buildings to check that they were built the right way,” explained Joel Burstein, a structural engineer living in Jerusalem. “Israel’s building codes are as demanding as they are in the US, and our engineers are excellent, and they submit building plans to the local municipalities that are checked by civil engineers and approved. But no one would actually come to the building to check that it was built according to the plan. While in the US, civil engineers would have to sign off on a building by checking it once construction is completed, here, there is just an assumption that the engineers and builders did what they were supposed to do. That, I think, has been a major flaw in the system here.”
The new control institutes implemented by the Israel Planning Administration (IPA) are designed to solve that problem. They would replace the local authorities for issuing building permits and conducting inspections to carry out construction. These will provide a single authority to take authority and responsibility for the safety and quality of construction.
Since 2018, working with these institutes has been voluntary only, but as of next week, July 6, it will become mandatory for residential buildings of up to nine stories, and by January 2022, all buildings will require their approval. Buildings will be inspected by the fire department and the Home Front Command, among other bodies.
There are other issues the IPA, which is in charge of enforcing building codes, wants to improve, sources told The Jerusalem Post. Currently, a contractor is allowed to request changes to a plan after it has been approved by municipal authorities, requiring it to be reevaluated and endangering the integrity of the plan. Israel is the only country that allows this, and the director of the IPA wants that canceled.
The IPA is also looking to end the Tama 38 program, which allows contractors to add floors to existing urban buildings in
exchange for strengthening the structures, the source said.
An effort is also underway to identify all buildings using the problematic Pal-Kal method used in the Versailles hall, and for each to be inspected.
Burstein said he believes the country’s building codes are very safe if they are enforced properly.
“We follow standards that are as updated as anywhere in the world,” he said. “The earthquake codes, which we adopted from California’s standards, are quite stringent.”
That being said, it is difficult to try to anticipate all the potential risks, said Yehuda Kfir, a civil engineer.
“The topic of strengthening existing buildings is important everywhere, not just in Israel,” he said. “Buildings, like everything, are not permanent. They have a certain lifespan, and can develop structural problems. These are not always easy to find, even though technology has made it much easier. But you need to check.”