Berkeley tragedy: inspections find 800 balconies need repair

Call for ‘immediate action’ as California approves emergency safety building standards

Workers examine broken joists of the fourth storey balcony that collapsed at the Library Gardens Apartments in Berkeley in 2015. Photograph: The New York Times

More than 800 balcony-like structures in the city of Berkeley, California have been found to require repair following inspections that took place after the Library Gardens tragedy that killed six students.

Irish students Olivia Burke, Eoghan Culligan, Lorcán Miller, Nick Schuster and Eimear Walsh, all aged 21, and Ms Burke’s cousin Ashley Donohoe (22), from California, died when the fourth-floor balcony they were standing on collapsed on June 16th, 2015.

Another seven Irish students; Aoife Beary, Clodagh Cogley, Seán Fahey, Conor Flynn, Jack Halpin, Niall Murray and Hannah Waters, suffered catastrophic injuries in the incident.

The students who were killed when the balcony collapsed at the Library Gardens Apartments, in Berkeley, California: Ashley Donohoe, Eoghan Culligan, Olivia Burke, Nick Schuster, Eimear Walsh, and Lorcan Miller
The collapsed fourth-floor balcony in Berkeley is seen in this photograph from June 16th, 2015. Photograph: EPA

The California Building Standards Commission (CBSC) voted late on Friday to approve emergency regulations enhancing building standards for the construction of "exterior elevated elements", which are balcony-like structures.


The new regulations come into effect immediately and will govern exterior balconies and walkways going forward.

In a statement, the commission said the regulations would impact the construction of balconies, exterior stairs and walkways for residential occupancies, hotels, motels, apartment buildings, state-owned buildings and public schools.

In April 2016, a working group was set up to assess the safety of balconies in the state of California. As part of its work, the group obtained statistics from Berkeley on “the pervasiveness” of issues relating to balconies.

In notes for the emergency regulations, the commission says more than 800 balcony-like structures in the city are in need of repair.

“Of a total of more than 6,000 properties identified as possible candidates for having exterior elevated elements, greater than 800 had a need for repair, when the enclosed assemblies were inspected,” it says.

“This provides convincing data about the magnitude of hidden conditions that may exist in exterior elevated elements, and which may be subject to potential for failure. It is imperative that new standards address the prevention of this potential.”

Executive director of the commission Mia Marvelli said in the wake of the “tragic collapse of a balcony that killed and severely injured several people in Berkeley in the summer of 2015, the California Building Standards Commission has voted to approve emergency regulations to enhance building standards for the construction of exterior elevated elements”.

“California’s building codes serve to safeguard the health, safety, and welfare of the public - the code’s very essence is the protection of life and property from hazards. We are hopeful that today’s action can bring some small solace to the families and friends of the victims of this terrible tragedy.”

The commission said “immediate action” is warranted to help prevent potential failures such as these. The regulations will provide a model that will “help mitigate future problems” and are described as “essential and critical for public health and safety”.

“The nature of the issue surrounding the type of failure demonstrated by the Library Gardens tragedy is that causation factors do not always have precedent indicators; they are not always identifiable,” says the commission.

“Thus, it is prudent to address new construction (which may include additions and renovations to existing buildings) with safeguards that will provide higher performance and assurance levels.

“It is also prudent to address existing buildings, which may have conditions now that could lead to potential for failure.”

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson is an Irish Times reporter