• Credit: Jeff Smith, NBC 5

Six students were taken to the hospital after a wood deck collapsed during a spring break party at the “Sea Stars Cottage,” a vacation home at 1985 West Beach Boulevard in Gulf Shores, Alabama, the Mobile Press-Register reports (“Spring-breakers released from hospital after being injured in deck collapse in Gulf Shores,” by Marc. D. Anderson). Authorities are focusing on the unusual load conditions imposed by a large gathering, the paper reports. Battalion Chief Bo Smith with the Gulf Shores Fire Department told the Press-Register, "When we got there it wouldn't surprise me if there was 150 to 200 kids walking down West Beach Boulevard, obviously coming from the house. ?It was amazing, absolutely amazing how many people were crammed into that house."

Grant Brown, Director of Recreation and Cultural Affairs for the City of Gulf Shores said, “Unfortunately you can have the best building codes in the world and if you have an over-capacity situation at some point there is a maximum capacity of that structure,” according to Mobile television station Fox 10 (“City addresses Gulf Shores deck collapse,” by Matt Barrentine).

Gulf Shores has enforced the 2009 International Residential Code since 2010. But the house where the deck collapse occurred was likely constructed under an earlier code. The Gulf Shores municipal website still offers links to the 2003 IRC, in force before the 2010 update. The 2003 and 2006 editions of the IRC offered little guidance for deck builders regarding fastening or support details at the critical connection to the house (which appears to be one failure point in the collapse). However, a 2007 supplement to the IRC introduced requirements for positive connections at that crucial building intersection, including an allowable prescriptive detail for a 1500-pound capacity tension tie at two locations joining the deck floor frame with the home’s main floor.

For more information on the prescriptive requirements introduced in 2007, see “Coastal Resources: Safe and Durable Coastal Decks,” a 2008 feature article by Virginia Tech engineering professor Frank Woeste, posted at JLC Online.