New Building Code Revisions Adopted By ICC

The International Code Council (ICC) has approved 23 building and fire code changes based on recommendations from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The recommendations were part of NIST’s investigation of the collapses of the World Trade Center (WTC) in New York on 9/11.

With the changes implemented, future buildings (especially tall structures) should be increasingly resistant to fire, more easily evacuated in emergencies, and safer overall, states the October 1, 2008 release from NIST. The changes, adopted at the ICC hearings held Sept. 15 to 21, 2008, in Minneapolis, MN, will be incorporated into the 2009 edition of the ICC’s I-Codes (specifically the International Building Code, or IBC, and the International Fire Code, or IFC), a model code used as the basis for building and fire regulations promulgated and enforced by U.S. state and local jurisdictions. Those jurisdictions have the option of incorporating some or all of the code’s provisions but generally adopt most provisions.

“We applaud this historic action by the ICC—and the tremendous effort by NIST and its WTC investigation team that led to it,” said Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez. “The lessons learned from the tragic events of 9/11 have yielded stronger building and fire codes for a new generation of safer, more robust buildings across the nation.”

The new codes address areas such as:

  • Increasing structural resistance to building collapse from fire and other incidents
  • Requiring a third exit stairway for tall buildings
  • Increasing the width of all stairways by 50% in new high-rises
  • Strengthening criteria for the bonding, proper installation and inspection of sprayed fire-resistive materials (commonly known as “fireproofing”)
  • Improving the reliability of active fire protection systems (i.e., automatic sprinklers)
  • Requiring a new class of robust elevators for access by emergency responders in lieu of an additional stairway
  • Making exit path markings more prevalent and more visible
  • Ensuring effective coverage throughout a building for emergency responder radio communications.

Not Approved, But To Be Reconsidered
There were nine building and fire code change proposals consistent with the NIST WTC investigation recommendations that were not approved for the 2009 edition of the I-Codes but will be considered for resubmission at a later date after being amended. These are:

  • Requiring buildings more than 420 feet high to be designed to survive a building contents fire to burnout without more than local failure of the structural frame.
  • Requiring structures not to suffer a collapse disproportionate to a local initiating failure caused by an accident or incident.
  • Requiring a risk assessment and acceptable mitigation of risks for buildings more than 420 feet high with an occupant load greater than 5,000; for buildings with an occupant load greater than 10,000; and for buildings determined to be at higher than normal risk.
  • Requiring use of a new standard for conducting wind tunnel testing.
  • Requiring installation of stairway communication and monitoring system at every fifth floor of each exit stairway. Also requiring, in buildings more than 75 feet high, a video surveillance system in each exit stairway, elevator lobby, elevator hoistway and elevator machine room to enhance situational awareness of emergency responders.
  • Requiring fire safety and evacuation plans for all occupancies and buildings where required by the International Fire Code (the International Building Code is more widely adopted across the country than the IFC; this would ensure all situations are covered).
  • Requiring detailed schematic building plans, including an approved Building Information Card, to be located in fire command centers to show the type of construction, stairway access and pressurization, fuel oil tank and hazardous materials locations, standpipe availability and locations, in addition to typical floor plan and details of the building core, means of egress, elevator locations, fire protection systems, firefighting equipment and fire department access.
  • Limiting the length of horizontal transfer corridors used to connect a stairwell to 50 feet or less in buildings more than 75 feet high.
  • Allowing the option to design buildings more than 420 feet high using the ICC Performance Code, instead of the high-rise provisions of the International Building Code. This change will allow the performance-based NIST WTC recommendations to be considered in a holistic manner.

A chart tracking the progress toward implementing all of the NIST WTC recommendations can be found at