In the wake of a storm in south Trinidad that blew the roofs off 20 homes in Point Fortin, Penal/Debe, Barrackpore, Fyzabad, Siparia and Dow Village, it’s clear more needs to be done to publicly circulate building codes and to inspect at-risk buildings. Building codes cannot protect fully against natural disaster, but photographs of many affected homes made clear the need for more information about building standards in the public domain and ultimately, a system for mandated adherence to basic standards for construction.
Many of the affected homes that suffered damage last week did not meet even the most basic requirements of storm proofing. Roofs were blown off in their entirety, putting not just the affected residences at risk but those in the path of the inevitable debris also faced danger. One roof landed in its entirety on another home.
Beyond the risk to human life, always the prime consideration in such safety measures, are the thousands of dollars in losses incurred in damage to property that result. The conversations about building codes arises most frequently in the wake of earthquakes, prompting warnings from architects and engineers, government promises to pursue the matter and general confusion and continued non-compliance among the general public.
Home construction and refurbishment should be done either by a professional with experience or with the oversight of someone with the required training. There are rules that govern the installation of electricity and water into buildings. Connections to these public utilities require adherence to clear professional standards before they are done.
Far too many buildings are built in TT without professional oversight and without proper inspections of either plans or completed structural review, up to and including clearly inadequate roofing. In August 2018, Stuart Young in his capacity as communications minister, promised that the Government would revisit building code regulations after a 6.9 scale earthquake shook the country. He acknowledged then that TT does not have a legally enforceable building code and that the Town and Country Planning Division does not assess buildings for structural integrity.
The closest this country has to any kind of guidelines for construction are those of the TT Bureau of Standards (TTBS), which publishes them as suggestions worth following. The TTBS, as with the planning division, follow accepted international standards for construction in their guidance and that’s sensible.
What makes no sense at all is turning a blind eye to structures that are inadequate for their intended purpose, taking no action on buildings that are visibly dangerous and then promising to do something about it. Someday.