Building, safety department boosts grade after evaluation

MEDFORD — If you and your house are going to go through an earthquake, Medford's a good city to do it in.

Medford's Building and Safety Department just brought its insurance grade up from a C to an A according to a national evaluation conducted by Insurance Services Office. The evaluation, presented to the city June 29, determined Medford has safer buildings and more consistent building code enforcement than it did five years ago, when the company last evaluated it.

Reed Speare, ISO representative in Rocklin, Calif., said in a letter to the city that high marks mean the buildings are safer and there's less damage and fewer losses from catastrophes.

"The evaluations place special emphasis on mitigation of losses from natural hazards," he wrote. "ISO gives the information to insurers, which may use the evaluations in granting premium discounts for property insurance in the community."

ISO is an independent organization supported by insurance companies that provides advisory insurance underwriting and rating information to insurers. Not all insurance companies look at ISO ratings, however.

Chris Reising, director of the Building and Safety Department, said even if residents' insurance companies do not rely on the data, it's good news for everyone that a disinterested third party comes in and gives such a high grade.

"It means something to us," he said. "It's kind of a validation."

Whether there's a fire, flood, high winds or an earthquake, a high rating means there's likely to be less economic and social disruption that results from destruction of property because the city imposes and enforces codes that limit such damage.

"The building codes are in place in a large part to help avert tragedy when there is a catastrophe," he said.

Christy Davis, the department's development services administrator, said the organization grades on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being excellent. She said the department went from an ISO rating of 6 in 2002 to a rating of 2. She said only four out of more than 7,000 building departments analyzed nationwide scored a 1, but she's shooting for it next time.

The ISO analyzed the department's program administration, plan review and field inspection areas, she said, adding that it also looked at underwriting information such as local natural hazards, statistical data such as number of permits issued, number of inspections completed and the department's funding mechanism.

The rating applies to commercial and residential buildings constructed between 2002 and 2007, though the rating means overall staff is doing a good job, said Reising.

Davis said areas the city did especially well in were adoption of the latest available codes, local modifications to the codes, having all of the plan review and inspection staff fully certified, having an experienced staff and conducting a high level of detail in plan reviews.

Reach reporter Meg Landers at 776-4481 or e-mail

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