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The International Codes Council (ICC) Group A Committee Action Hearings (CAH) now underway are making history - not because of the proposals themselves but instead because these hearings are taking place virtually, due to COVID-19 pandemic travel restrictions.

Code Hearings in a Virtual World

How exactly do building code hearings take place online? Through the wonders of technology, participants are able to virtually testify for or against building code changes or proposed modifications to them in ICC’s Group A cycle via Zoom rooms.

Some of ICC’s committee members acting on code proposals sit in Country Club Hills, IL, separated by plexiglass dividers like game show contestants sequestered in individual see-through booths. Others listen from their homes or offices and cast their votes online.

While ICC committee members deciding the fate of proposals can see those testifying online, participants viewing the webcast cannot. The public only sees the moderator and occasional online video of committee members dutifully seated at their plexiglass stations or their computer, raising their hands in support of or against approving proposals.

That means active listening skills are vital, as some 1,250 proposed code changes are heard in testimony over 22 days. More than 200 hours of online testimony by more than 800 potential speakers takes place seven days a week April 11-April 21 for part one and April 25-May 5 for part two. Hearings run with precision and parliamentary procedure as moderators masterfully enforce in-depth ICC rules from at least 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Central, Monday through Saturday. Sunday sessions start at noon and continue to 7 p.m. or later.

The Importance of Virtual Testimony

The pace is grueling. The stakes are high. The shift to virtual testimony isn’t the same as in-person events, but it allows the hearings to proceed. Without the ability to hold hearings virtually, code adoption cycles could be delayed. FGIA appreciates the monumental effort by ICC to bring the hearings and their many complexities to life online.

Virtual testimony presents unique challenges. For example, it’s difficult to determine who and how many people support or oppose code changes as they request to speak in one and two-minute increments, attempting to earn the respective ICC committee’s support to proceed to the next step in the process. With virtual testimony, there is no body language for the public to gauge among supporters or opponents, because only ICC committee members can see the testifiers, unlike in-person events where everyone is in the same hearing room.

People testifying virtually are listed by name online. That’s a bit like testifying in the dark, or blindfolded, as it’s unclear how much total support or opposition there may be for changes until testimony goes live. Despite distinct requirements for two-minute testimony, one-minute rebuttals and no repeated points, testimony on a single proposal can span more than one hour.

FGIA’s Strategy

That’s why FGIA’s strategy and proactive approach to codes advocacy is key. Together with the members of our Code Action Steering Committee (CASC) and the various committees and task groups that report to it, we’ve been discussing code proposals since last fall. We researched them at length once they became available online. Our team has proactively reached out to change proponents to better understand and, in some cases, to negotiate suggested revisions in their proposals as FGIA formed its own positions.

That upfront planning and collaboration is especially critical in a virtual setting because there is no opportunity to step out of the room to quicky negotiate alternative language or positions, as occurs at in-person hearings. To be most effective, collaboration and negotiation take place well in advance, especially in virtual hearings.

Join the Hearings

Curious about how ICC’s virtual hearings work? There’s still time to see history in the making. View ICC Group A CAH hearings online at no charge until May 5.

Will this be the first and last time ICC holds code hearings virtually? It’s hard to know with exact certainty. Right now, ICC plans to hold Public Comment Hearings (PCH) in Pittsburgh, PA September 21-29. Time and pandemic conditions will tell whether those hearings actually take place in-person, or through a combination of in-person and online testimony.