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Could It Happen Here? Expert Weighs In On California Building Codes In Wake Of Condo Collapse In Florida

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) - With the deadly collapse Thursday of a 12-story high-rise condo building in Surfside, a Miami-Dade County, in which 55 of the 136 units crumbled, some residents of the southland wonder whether a similar catastrophe could happen here.

"Well, anything is possible," Thomas Sabol, an adjunct professor at the University of California Los Angeles' Samueli School of Engineering, told CBSLA's Kristine Lazar. "But again, the building codes [in California] just based on historical record appear to be very conservative with respect to gravity loads."

Sabol pointed to California's strict and robust building codes due to the risk of earthquake. However, he also said that Florida has similar standards because of hurricanes, which he said produce similar types of demands on structures.

"But the general approach to trying to tie structures together, to make them redundant and resilient in order to be able to stand earthquake forces makes them, I think, much more resilient and redundant when it comes to resisting gravity forces," Sabol said.

California has required builders to add additional earthquake-related protections since 1933. The city also has two ordinances requiring older buildings be further retrofitted, but the timeline for the added protections are spread across a 25 to 30 year period.

Still, Sabol suggested that an incident like the one that occurred in Florida is extremely rare.

After examining video of the collapse, the adjunct professor said it appears the Florida tragedy was a progressive collapse, meaning it didn't necessarily start at the base of the building. If the structure was in distress prior to the collapse, there would have been visible cracks unless it was an issue with one of the columns.

"The idea is that those cracks announce the potential for failure. If a column, on the other hand, was one of the elements that ended up precipitating this collapse, it's very often those fail without any significant warning," he said.

According to LA County officials, any time a new building goes up, upon completion, they inspect it. After that, however, it's up to the owner of the property to do periodic inspections and keep up on the maintenance.

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