Free and Online Access to Building Codes

Did you know anyone with access to the internet can check out current building codes at the International Code Council (ICC) website? It’s true! I am really excited about this because when I first started in the industry, I only had access to the physical books, and I always thought how much easier things would be if I could use and refer people to a digital version.

Well now we all can – building professionals and property owners and renters – basically everyone. All you have to do is visit the ICC website at https://codes.iccsafe.org/codes and check out any of the 15 codes they offer along with other related publications. They even have different years of the code available. Of course they offer a subscription service with more features which is probably something a building professional would be more interested in than a property owner.

When you get to the site, you can filter the codes in the menu on the left which you can see in the image on this page. You can also go to a specific year by clicking the drop down at the top and choosing the year and version of code. To view a code which shows up in the display, just hover over the graphic of the title and when you see “View as Basic” click on it. The site will take you to the code. You can check out different sections of the code by clicking on the list of sections on the left of the screen.

One important thing to keep in mind is even though the codes are there for free for us to read, they are still under copyright. So in accessing and using them we need to make sure we don’t infringe on the ICC copyright.

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Building Safety Month Kick-off

Well it’s here! Building Safety Month – a month to promote pretty much what it says: BUILDING SAFETY. And because all of us need to spend time in buildings or some sort of shelter, Building Safety Month is really for everyone. This year, the International Code Council (ICC) which sponsors the campaign has established four themes for each of the following four weeks:

Week 1, May 1 to May 8: Energy and Innovation

Week 2, May 9 to May 15: Building Safety Careers

Week 3, May 16 to 22: Disaster Preparedness

Week 4, May 23 to 31, Water Safety

Whether you are in the building industry or a related field or not, I hope to offer information and resources throughout the month for all of us. And if you are in the field, you can stop by the ICC Building Safety Month website to download toolkits, proclamations, and other materials to promote the month in your communities.

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A Short Story of Catastrophic Land Subsidence and Jonas’ Lake

The other day a colleague told me about a bean field in Polk county, Minn., which catastrophically dropped 25 feet. After watching the video I noticed the land was located near a river, and the video points out that the land also seems to be pushing into the river. It made me wonder if some types of geographical features I had thought developed gradually over time instead occasionally occur all at once as this did. And now will this sunken area present to the river a path through which a new meander of the river may be created?

Then today in reading the history of Richland county, Ohio, I came across another story of a catastrophic drop in land which occurred in 1846 in an area about seven miles east of Mansfield. The area is now covered by several acres of water and is called Sites Lake – a small lake lying close to and north and east of the much larger Charles Mill Lake. But according to the history, Sites lake, which used to be called Uncle Jonas’ Lake, was at one time only about an acre in size. The story explains that the area around the lake, amounting to about eight acres, was very flat and rimmed with “hills of gentle slope.” So the owner of the property, who was the Uncle Jonas after which the lake was named, decided he would drain the lake and recover an extra acre of farm ground. To achieve this goal, he cut a ditch through the only break in the hills lying around the flat acreage so the water could drain from the lake to the “Black Swamp” which lay to the east. He completed his work on July 25, 1846, and successfully lowered the water level by eight feet.

Imagine Jonas’ surprise when instead of gaining more flat, dry land, he found the flat area around his lake had dropped and became flooded with water. Only the tops of trees could be seen and eventually over time even these too sunk out of sight increasing the size of the lake to six acres. Neighbors from miles around reported feeling a “quake and tremble” at the time the land catastrophically sank. Then, through the years, the land continued sinking until eventually the lake reached a size of eight to nine acres.

Later in the 1900s work was done to significantly develop the area around Uncle Jonas’ Lake. Today it is dwarfed by the much larger Charles Mill Lake which, according to the Charles Mill Lake website, is 1350 acres in size.

Google map view of Mansfield Ohio and Charles Mill Lake to the east.
A map showing Charles Mills Lake which is located about seven miles east of Mansfield, Ohio. Uncle Jonas’ Lake is one of the smaller lakes lying just to the north and east of Charles Mills Lake. Uncle Jonas’ Lake is now called Sites Lake. Source: Google Maps.
This map shows the location of Uncle Jonas’ Lake, now called Sites Lake, just north and east of Charles Mill Lake in Section 15 in Mifflin Township. Source: National Map.
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The Hinckley Firestorm of 1894

Photos of the town of Hinckley, Minnesota before and after the fire in 1894

Hinckley, MN, 1894. The top photo was taken before the fire consumed the town. The photo on the bottom was taken after the fire. Photos from A History of the Great Minnesota Forest Fires, Sandstone, Mission Creek, Hinckley, Pokegama, Skunk Lake by Elton T. Brown.

For Building Safety Month, which was in May, I looked for some books I could read to help me better understand disasters and resiliency. After compiling a list of about four or five books, I started this month on my reading. The first book I read was Under a Flaming Sky, The Great Hinckley Firestorm of 1894 by Daniel James Brown. It tells the story of how a hot, dry weather period and practices of the logging industry converged to create and feed a devastating fire that burned its way north through Minnesota in early September of 1894. And it tells the story of the people who faced that fire, some who survived and many who did not.

The book was a little slow at first as it introduced people and set the stage for the fire event. However, once I got to the point where the fire was roaring towards the town, I could not put it down and had to read to the end. Looking back, I liked that the author weaved together the people and facts of the town, weather, geology and topography of the area, fires in general, and the railroad. All of this helped me better understand the event and its impacts which were horribly devastating.

Skunk Lake where many people tried to shelter from the fire. Photo from Memorials of the Minnesota forest fires in the year 1894 : with a chapter on the forest fires in Wisconsin in the same year by William Wilkinson

There seems to be several books of contemporary information about the fire along with others written more recently. Below are just a few which includes the one I read. The older ones can be read online for free, but newer books may need to be purchased or checked out from a local library. If your local library does not have a book, you can also request it from the National Emergency Training Center Library through an interlibrary loan:

A History of the Great Minnesota Forest FiresSandstone, Mission Creek, Hinckley, Pokegama, Skunk Lake by Elton T. Brown

Memorials of the Minnesota forest fires in the year 1894 : with a chapter on the forest fires in Wisconsin in the same year by William Wilkinson (this book has several photos of the area and several of the people impacted by the fire)

From the Ashes: The Story of the Hinckley Fire of 1894 by Grace Stageberg Swenson 

Under a Flaming Sky, The Great Hinckley Firestorm of 1894 by Daniel James Brown

There is also a museum in Hinckley which tells the story of the fire. You can check out their website at http://hinckleyfiremuseum.com/. If I make it to that area of Minnesota, I am definitely stopping by the museum to learn more.

Overall, the book made me more aware of the history of the area, weather patterns through history, and how human nature, preparedness, weather, and industries can impact resiliency. While the story is disturbing, I really liked the book and would recommend it to anyone interested in fires, disasters, and resiliency of both individuals and communities.

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Billions of Us – Virtual Solutions for a COVID-19 World

Over the last few weeks the world has been forced to forge a new path as we learn to protect ourselves and each other while trying to keep support services functioning. This first phase has been reactionary. We’ve mainly been figuring out how to establish a home base from which we can accomplish the things we need to do. Even those who still go to their workplace, like those in public works or emergency or medical services, are figuring out how to operate in a much changed work environment.

Fortunately humans are adaptable and already we seem to be shifting to the next phase in which we try to figure out how to best leverage available resources. One initiative I see working in this direction is Billions of Us, “a creative collective devoted to using virtual technologies to improve the real world in this time of vast systemic change.” This effort is just getting off the ground so their website has minimal information. Instead, they are engaging more on their Billions of Us Facebook group which you can request to join if interested. Yesterday after I saw a notice about it on LinkedIn, I messaged Reuben Steiger who graciously welcomed me to the Facebook group.

While making use of social media channels, Billions of Us has also set up space in the virtual world of Second Life (SLURL: http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Billions%20of%20Us1/245/12/28). This specific venue appeals to me because I know from past experience Second Life can provide the framework and opportunity for people to work together to achieve goals that might not otherwise have been possible. If you have not yet been in a place like Second Life this may sound surprising. And yes, there are places in Second Life, like in our offline world, that are NSFW. But there are many places only focused on business where professionals engage and learn from each other and have been doing so since the early 2000s. I have worked on projects by both teleworking and by working in Second Life. Only the experience of working with others in a virtual world like Second Life has allowed me to develop the same type of professional relationships I would develop in a face-to-face environment.

Billions of Us Town Hall in Second Life

So what will Billions of Us achieve? And will this situation in which we find ourselves become our “new normal? Obviously it’s too early to tell, but I like the idea of a group focused on leveraging technology to help us get through it. So I’m taking advantage of the opportunity to participate and learn from others in the group and provide any support I can. I hope others who are interested in or who are already well-versed in virtual technologies will also join the initiative. We are all in this together, and what we achieve together will determine our outcome.

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National Preparedness Month is Here!

National Preparedness Month is here - congratulations!

We made it – National Preparedness Month is here, and we are prepared! If you followed along, congratulations to you too!

Below is a photo of the result of our efforts in our household over the last 20 weeks. As you can see, we ended up buying a regular plastic container I was able to find last week at Meijer for $5 on sale, and then with a 10% discount using mperks, we were able to get it for $4.50. So we were able to fit just about everything in there except of course the water. With eight cases of water, it just isn’t worth it to us to put it in a container. Also I left the garbage bags out since they too are so large.

Preparedness Kit with cases of water and garbage bags

And here’s a closeup of inside the container. It’s mostly food.

Closeup of Preparedness kit

Over the next few weeks of September, we’ll be following the preparedness month information to see if there is anything else we can do. If you have a family or business or if you are working for government and want to share preparedness tips with others, you can find many resources at the National Preparedness Month website: https://www.ready.gov/september

Below is just one of the many videos available:


As a side note, throughout this series of posts about getting prepared, I may mention certain products, services, agencies, etc. At no time is it my intention to promote a specific product or service or agency. Each is mentioned only for informational purposes.  Of course as a government employee, I do receive a salary from the government for the time I work on my job which by the way is not affiliated with this site, but I don’t receive any compensation from any commercial entities I mention or include in these posts.

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