If you are looking for a simple answer – sorry, there isn't one! Permitting is handled either by the county or city or both. First step in this process is to find out what is demanded where you are looking to Permit. A local Materials Handling Contractor is your best bet – they likely have been through the process many times.
But you didn't read this blog to be told "call your local rack guy" – so there are some general guidelines. First of all, the process is twofold: 1) Structural – Is the racking you plan on erecting designed appropriately for the loads you plan on putting on it and the seismic zone it falls in? and 2) Fire – Does the product, acknowledged to be stored, compatible with the sprinkler system installed?
Before going into detail – Permitting is not normally needed if storage level is 7' or below. Racking takes up less than 1,200 square feet or capacity per level is 500 lbs. or less. Structural calculations are normally not needed if storage is 10' or less or takes up less than 3,000 square feet of floor space (excluding aisles). Assuming you didn't meet the criteria above …
The structural portion of permitting consists of plan view and elevation view analyzed by a licensed engineer who stamps approval. Their approval consists of pages of calculations and another document focusing on connection details. There are some pallet rack consultants that rely solely on charts provided by the manufacturers. If you are experiencing this type of salesman … ask to see the "prelims". Has the racking been designed specifically for where you want it installed? Don't be too confident – there is areas in Atlanta that literally across the street demands different seismic sensitivity. Be prepared to pay approximately $800 to $1,200 per different design configuration.
Fire part of permitting is critical to understand. Is the sprinkler system adequate for what you want to store? Your insurance provider will likely want to know this also. DO NOT sign a lease until you are sure the sprinkler system is adequate. If it is not there are three options: 1) upgrade the existing sprinkler system 2) Drop sprinklers into the racking or 3) Limit the height of storage to 12' top of product. These three options are not normally well received!
In conclusion: Permitting, when enforced consistently and guidelines spelled out clearly is a wonderful process to assure proper behavior and design is being followed in their jurisdiction. If your pallet racking provider suggests permitting should be avoided … Beware! The cost is normally a small percentage of the project and the solace gained knowing design is proper is well worth the trouble.