The tragedy that unfolded two weeks ago has led all of us to look inward with a simple question: Could what happened at Champlain Towers happen here?

The answer is yes. The catastrophe in South Florida must be a lesson for us all.

It must serve as a reminder that local control, along with consistent, thorough and — if needed — punitive reviews need to be conducted regularly by individuals with institutional knowledge of the properties.

Certainly, there are differences in the tower in Florida and the high-rise properties in the Valley, including two in Sunbury and three in the Coal Region. Residing on the coast, the Champlain Towers faced climate challenges not seen here. Our taller buildings here are immune from the occasional battering from saltwater. Reports out of Florida highlighted corroded rebar and crumbling concrete.

We agree with state Sen. Nikil Saval’s proposal that state officials use this tragedy as a backdrop to create universal rules for inspections. Rules must be incredibly detailed considering that even in Pennsylvania, the impacts of climate, geography, usage and materials are different.

“I think it’s totally worth looking at, like how can we update and make our built environment resilient and safe and sustainable even if certainly Florida seems far away,” Saval said.

Four years ago, Pennsylvania updated its construction codes. It gave the responsibility for enforcement of building codes and inspections to local officials and inspectors. That is a good thing.

Dr. Walt Schneider, a professor at Penn State and chair of the state’s Uniform Construction Code Review and Advisory Committee, said property owners “should be critical of their own buildings,” and ensure that residents feel comfortable approaching them or a code officer with a concern.

“The building code officials locally know their jurisdiction and know what buildings are there, and many of them tend to be proactive,” he said,

That makes sense and should continue as a standard operating procedure, with the understanding the code enforcement officers represent the people, not the property owners.

Those code officials need to have a toolbox that allows them to push owners and operators to make necessary repairs, which includes punitive measures.

If everyone does their job — residents, property owners and inspectors — the hope is that the ongoing tragedy in Florida is never repeated again.

NOTE: Opinions expressed in The Daily Item’s editorials are the consensus of the publisher, top newsroom executives and community members of the editorial board. Today’s was written by Managing Editor Bill Bowman.

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