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Quake shows benefit of good building codes


THE NEW ZEALAND earthquake sends a strong yet very simple message: Strong building codes save lives and property.

As we report on page 3, observers agree that losses could have been far higher had the country not promulgated stringent building codes. The fact that no one died as a result of the quake testifies to the codes' effectiveness.

In the United States, insurer-supported groups such as the Institute for Business and Home Safety promote the adoption of up-to-date building codes to protect properties against earthquakes and other events such as hurricanes and tornadoes.

Of course, no code is perfect. For practical reasons, codes must often grandfather in older buildings that do not meet current standards but that would be extremely expensive to retrofit. Although New Zealand's regulations call for retrofitting historical buildings, some Christchurch landmarks had not yet been brought into compliance, and sustained such damage that they will have to be demolished.

With sound codes and active enforcement, authorities have the tools with which to help prevent disasters from becoming tragedies. That was the message from New Zealand, and it is a message that should be heeded throughout the world.