Hurricane Strong

This week will see the ultimate combination of events intended to raise public awareness of the necessity for disaster-resistant construction: It is week three of ICC’s Building Safety Month; National Hurricane Preparedness Week, as proclaimed by the U.S. president; the  NOAA Hurricane Awareness Tour of the Gulf Coast; and the kickoff of the new HurricaneStrong program.

hurricanestrong1

The ICC says that “Building Safety Month is a public awareness campaign to help individuals, families and businesses understand what it takes to create safe and sustainable structures. The campaign reinforces the need for adoption of modern, model building codes, a strong and efficient system of code enforcement and a well-trained, professional workforce to maintain the system.” Building Safety Month has a different focus each week for four weeks.  Week One is “Building Solutions for All Ages.”  Week Two is “The Science Behind the Codes.”  Week Three is “Learn from the Past, Build for Tomorrow.” Finally, Week Four is “Building Codes, A Smart Investment.” Simpson Strong-Tie is proud to be a major sponsor of Week Three of Building Safety Month.

hurricanestrong2

National Hurricane Preparedness Week is recognized each year to raise awareness of the threat posed to Americans by hurricanes. A Presidential Proclamation urged Americans to visit www.Ready.gov and www.Hurricanes.gov/prepare to learn ways to prepare for dangerous hurricanes before they strike. Each day of the week has a different theme. The themes are:
⦁ Determine your risk; develop an evacuation plan
⦁ Secure an insurance check-up; assemble disaster supplies
⦁ Strengthen your home
⦁ Identify your trusted sources of information for a hurricane event
⦁ Complete your written hurricane plan.

hurricanestrong3

hurricanestrong4

This week also marks the NOAA Hurricane Awareness Tour, where NOAA hurricane experts will fly with two of their hurricane research aircraft to five Gulf Coast Cities. Members of the public are invited to come tour the planes and meet the Hurricane Center staff along with representatives of partner agencies. The goal of the tour is to raise awareness about the importance of preparing for the upcoming hurricane season. The aircraft on the tour are an Air Force WC-130J and a NOAA G-IV. These “hurricane hunters” are flown in and around hurricanes to gather data that aids in forecasting the future of the storm. As with Hurricane Preparedness Week, each day of the tour features a different theme.  Simpson Strong-Tie is pleased to be a sponsor for Thursday, when the theme is Strengthen Your Home.  Representatives from Simpson Strong-Tie will be attending the event on Thursday to help educate homeowners on ways to make their homes safer.

hurricanestrong5

hurricanestrong6

Finally, this week is the official kickoff of a new hurricane resilience initiative, HurricaneStrong. Organized by FLASH, the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes and in partnership with FEMA, NOAA and other partners, the program aims to increase safety and reduce economic losses through collaboration with the most recognized public and private organizations in the disaster safety movement. HurricaneStrong is intended to become an annual effort, with activities starting prior to hurricane season and continuing through the end of the hurricane season on November 30. To learn more, visit www.hurricanestrong.org.


Experts consider these public education efforts to be more important every year, as it becomes longer since landfall of a major hurricane and as more and more people move to coastal areas. The public complacency bred from a lull in major storms has even been given a name: Hurricane Amnesia.


All these efforts may be coming at a good time, assuming one of the hurricane season forecasts is correct. A forecast from North Carolina State predicts an above-average Atlantic Basin hurricane season. On the other hand, forecasters at the Department of Atmospheric Science at Colorado State University are predicting an approximately average year.


Are you prepared for the natural hazards to which your geographic area is vulnerable? If not, do you know where to get the information you need?

 

Which Tornado Saferoom is Right for You?

tornado1

Image courtesy of FLASH.

There certainly seems to be increased awareness of the potential for damage and injury from tornadoes these days. Recent information published by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH) help explain that. This increased awareness has led to a growing interest in tornado shelters for protection of life and property.

This FEMA graphic shows that most areas of the United States have been affected by a tornado at some point since 1996, and many have been affected by one or more strong tornadoes (EF3 or greater).

Figure 1 - Tornado activity by county: 1996-2013

Figure 1 – Tornado activity by county: 1996-2013

Living in North Texas near the Simpson Strong-Tie manufacturing plant in McKinney, Texas, I know all too well the sinking feeling of hearing the tornado sirens and turning on the TV to find you are under a tornado watch. FLASH recently published a graphic developed by the National Weather Service that shows the large number of U.S. counties that have been under a tornado watch between 2003-2014, and the high number of warnings that some counties experienced.

Figure 2 -  Annual average number of hours under NWS/SPC tornado watches (2003-2014)

Figure 2 – Annual average number of hours under NWS/SPC tornado watches (2003-2014)

Other than moving to an area that has fewer tornadoes, one of the best ways to protect your family and at least have more peace of mind during tornado season is to have a tornado shelter or safe room. These structures are designed and tested to resist the highest winds that meteorologists and engineers believe occur at ground level during a tornado and the debris that is contained in tornado winds.

Tornado shelters can be either pre-fabricated and installed by a specialty shelter manufacturer, or can be site-built from a designed plan or pre-engineered plan. A good source for information on pre-fabricated shelters is the National Storm Shelter Association, a self-policing organization that has strict requirements for the design, testing and installation of its members’ shelters.

FEMA publishes a document, P-320, Taking Shelter from the Storm, that provides good information on safe rooms in general, as well as several pre-engineered plans for tornado safe rooms.

To highlight the different types of safe rooms covered by FEMA P-320, FEMA, FLASH and the Portland Cement Association (PCA) sponsored an exhibit at January’s International Builder’s Show. The exhibit was called the “Home Safe Home Tornado Saferoom Showcase.” It featured six different types of saferooms that builders could incorporate into the homes they build. Simpson Strong-Tie and the American Wood Council collaborated to build a wood frame with steel sheathing safe room meeting the FEMA P-320 plans. Other safe rooms shown at the exhibit included pre-cast concrete and pre-manufactured steel shelters manufactured by NSSA members, and reinforced CMU, ICF cast-in-place concrete and aluminum formed cast-in-place concrete built to FEMA P-320 plans.

Figure 4 - Home Safe Home Tornado Saferoom Showcase

Figure 4 – Home Safe Home Tornado Saferoom Showcase

Simpson Strong-Tie staff in McKinney, Texas, constructed the wood frame/steel sheathing safe room in panels and shipped it to the show. It was built from locally sourced lumber, readily available fasteners and connectors and sheets of 16 ga. steel (which we happen to keep here at the factory). It had cut-away sheathing at the corners to show the three layers of sheathing needed. Our message to builders was that this type of shelter would be the easiest for their framers to build on their sites.

tornado5

Figure 5: Holdowns and plate anchorage

tornado6

Figure 6: Roof-to-wall connections

tornado7

Figure 7: A visitor examines our tested door, a vital component of any shelter. This one was furnished by CECO Doors.

The sponsors of the exhibit took advantage of the variety of safe rooms in one place to film a video series, “Which Tornado Safe Room is Right for You?The videos are posted at the FLASH StrongHomes channel on YouTube. The series provides comparative information on cast-in-place, concrete block masonry, insulated concrete forms, precast concrete and wood-frame safe rooms, with the goal of helping consumers to better understand their tornado safe room options.

“Today’s marketplace offers an unprecedented range of high-performing, affordable options to save lives and preserve peace of mind for the millions of families in the path of severe weather,” said FLASH President and CEO Leslie Chapman-Henderson. “These videos will help families understand their options for a properly built safe room that will deliver life safety when it counts.”

FLASH released the videos earlier this month as part America’s PrepareAthon!, a grassroots campaign to increase community emergency preparedness and resilience through hazard-specific drills, group discussions and exercises. The overall goal of the program is to get individuals to understand which disasters could happen in their community, know what to do to be safe and mitigate damage from those disasters, take action to increase their preparedness, and go one step farther by participating in resilience planning for their community. Currently, the program focuses on preparing for the disasters of tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, wildfires, earthquakes and winter storms.

Do you know what the risk of disasters is in your community? If you are subject to tornado risk, would you like to build your own safe room, have one built to pre-engineered plans or buy one from a reputable manufacturer? Let us know in the comments below.

Hurricane Sandy, One Year Later

Shane Vilasineekul

Guest blogger Shane Vilasineekul, engineering manager

[Simpson Strong-Tie note: Shane Vilasineekul is the Simpson Strong-Tie Engineering Manager for the Northeast U.S. and one of our guest bloggers for the Structural Engineering Blog. For more on Shane, see his bio here.]

The end of this month will mark the one year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy hitting the coastlines of New Jersey, New York, and surrounding states. A lot of construction has taken place in the last 12 months, but most of the rebuilding will occur over the next few years. The boardwalks were a high priority because of their effect on tourism, which is so vital to the local economies, and most of them have been completed (see my previous post about rebuilding after Sandy here). Now the focus has shifted to repairing, raising, and rebuilding homes.

Boardwalk under construction.

Boardwalk under construction. Image credit: Matt Cross, Simpson Strong-Tie.

I am writing this while sitting in the Newark airport, headed home after presenting one of our workshops on high wind design. The workshop was held at a hotel in Manahawkin, New Jersey that happened to be used last year by residents displaced by the storm, including some of the architects and engineers in attendance this morning. After talking to a few of them at the breaks, it sounded like they are struggling with the current state of building provisions, which were quickly put in place to ensure rebuilt properties are more resilient, including new flood elevations and renewed focus on code compliance.

Continue reading