Recent decades have seen millions of new homes built in coastal areas that often get hit by major storms. Many of these homes contain custom design elements that aren't covered in the building codes — ambitious architectural creations backed up by complex engineering analyses. Cay Cross, manager of the small town of Southern Shores on North Carolina's windswept Outer Banks, worried that her building inspectors weren't equipped to evaluate such plans or to ensure that contractors put the structures together properly. And she feared the town might still be held liable if it allowed construction of homes that later failed under high winds and heavy surf. Searching for technical help for her building officials, Cross found plenty of questions but few answers. When she complained to a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)