Mayor Nutter has already started an important conversation about what needs to happen. I believe five main changes need to occur:
The permitting process should require applicants to demonstrate experience in demolition, including all projects undertaken in the past five years and the experience of key personnel. Previous safety citations should also be disclosed.
Applicants must provide a demolition plan that details precautions to ensure the safety of workers, the public, and adjacent structures. Plans must be reviewed and approved by a professional engineer with expertise in structural engineering.
There must be a review of permit applications by someone with experience in demolition. Unfortunately, most municipal agencies lack such expertise. One solution is to require a performance bond and adequate insurance. Sureties and insurers are in the business of evaluating risk and providing financial protection. They employ people with the expertise to evaluate contractor qualifications.
All equipment operators should be randomly tested for drugs that can impair their reflexes or judgment. This should include not only illegal drugs, but also prescription drugs that can impair performance.
Lastly, contractors should be required to provide a detailed schedule of demolition activities as well as timely notice to authorities to allow for reasonable oversight. This provision must be accompanied by strong sanctions for noncompliance.
This is not intended to be the last word, but rather the beginning of an important conversation among architects, engineers, contractors, labor, code enforcers, and certainly the public through its elected officials.
Robert Brehm is an associate teaching professor in Drexel University's department of civil, architectural, and environmental engineering. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.