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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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Figure 5: Holdowns and plate anchorage

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Figure 6: Roof-to-wall connections

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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.

Educated in a FLASH, Part 2

This week’s blog was written by Branch Engineer Randy Shackelford, P.E., who has been an engineer for the Simpson Strong-Tie Southeast Region since 1994. He is an active member of several influential committees, including the AISI Committee on Framing Standards, the American Wood Council Wood Design Standards Committee, and the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes Technical Advisory Committee. He is vice-president and member of the Board of Directors of the National Storm Shelter Association. Randy has been a guest speaker at numerous outside seminars and workshops as a connector and high wind expert. Here is Randy’s post:

In my last blog post, I gave an overview of FLASH, the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes, and how Simpson Strong-Tie partners with them. Last November, FLASH held their Annual Conference.  The theme of this past meeting was “15 Years of Stronger Homes and Safer Families,” and it was one of their best conferences yet.

CDC Campaign On Preparing for a Zombie Apocalypse

CDC Campaign On Preparing for a Zombie Apocalypse

CDC Zombie Campaign for Emergency Preparedness

CDC Zombie Campaign for Emergency Preparedness

One of the highlights of the conference was a viewing of the Center for Disease Control’s unique Zombie Apocalypse campaign.  The idea is that preparing for disaster is very much like preparing for a zombie attack.  While it was fun, it was also educational because it tied into FLASH’s mitigation methods too.

A very interesting panel on the first day of the conference dealt with how members of each generation handle things differently.  A panel of Baby Boomers and Millennials (Generation Y) highlighted the fact that different generations had different ways of doing the same thing.

See the link below for an interesting summary of Baby Boomers, Gen X and Gen Y:

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One highlight of the first afternoon of the conference was the RenaissanceRe Challenge.  The challenge involved two teams of university students who had a chance to present their idea for projects to help Florida citizens confront wind events. The winning team of the challenge would receive a $20,000 scholarship.  The team from Florida International University presented their idea for “Aerodynamic Intelligent Mitigation.”  This consisted of a retrofittable element that is placed around the edges of a roof that has been proven to reduce uplift forces on the roof.  Meanwhile, the team from the University of Florida, the Miti-Gators, countered with their idea for a cell phone “app” that would evaluate the wind resistance of a house.  The idea would be that any prospective homebuyer could evaluate a home they were considering purchasing to see how wind resistant it would be compared to other homes.  This is important because in Florida, 70% of homes were built before the Florida Building Code was adopted.  In the end, the Miti-Gators won the scholarship.

Being a building-code nerd, the definite highlight of the second day was the panel discussion about building codes. Here are some of my favorite key takeaways:

Codes:

  • The building code is the first opportunity to ensure that buildings are built properly.  Mitigation is the second opportunity.
  • Legislators need to mandate adoption, consumers need to demand use, enforcers need to ask for adequate funding, and builders need to understand.
  • So little attention is given to building departments and enforcers, more attention is given to the fire department and local police.
  • Building codes originated due to disasters.  We need to change the purpose of codes from safety to resiliency.  We need to worry about what will happen to the building stock for years to come, not just the first cost today.
  • The insurance industry has found that where codes are scientifically sound, consistently enforced, and implemented across communities, the return in investment in building codes is large.
  • Building codes are one of the cornerstones of effective mitigation.  There are not many other places where you can make a change that will have an effect in perpetuity.
  • Building codes are an expression of society.
  • Building code adoption is the battle between making buildings safe and the increased costs to the builder and developer.  The builder does not get the long-term benefits that the owner does.

Politics:

  • The 800 pound gorilla is public policy:  The risks people face are being masked by pandering politicians.  Public policy interferes with the message that people need to understand their risk.  The way to help people understand their risk is through the marketplace setting rates for insurance.
  • A distorted market deprives consumers of proper pricing signals that can encourage dangerous behavior.

Preparedness:

  • Preparedness will not become a part of society until it is profitable
  • The difference between natural hazards and natural disasters is that nature causes the hazard, and human behavior causes the disasters.
  • Education of the public is the answer.  Owners must be taught to overcome the thought that “This natural disaster MIGHT happen, but I know that if I spend the money to prepare now it WILL cost me, so I’ll take the risk.”
  • People need to understand that “Disasters don’t just happen to the other guy.”

Finally, in the conclusion, “Building codes work; they save lives; stay the course; we’re making a difference.”

I couldn’t have said it better my self.

Educated in a FLASH, Part 1

Happy New Year! This week’s blog was written by Branch Engineer Randy Shackelford, P.E., who has been an engineer for the Simpson Strong-Tie Southeast Region since 1994. He is an active member of several influential committees, including the AISI Committee on Framing Standards, the American Wood Council Wood Design Standards Committee, and the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes Technical Advisory Committee. He is vice-president and member of the Board of Directors of the National Storm Shelter Association. Randy has been a guest speaker at numerous outside seminars and workshops as a connector and high wind expert. Here is Randy’s post:

As part of our mission to “help people build safer structures economically,” Simpson Strong-Tie works with many non-profit groups around the country, including the American Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity, and the National Storm Shelter Association. Another group we work with is FLASH, the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes.

The mission of FLASH is “Strengthening homes and safeguarding families from disasters of all kind.” FLASH recently celebrated its 15th year, and Simpson Strong-Tie has been right there with them for most of those years.

Creating the StormStruck® Experience

The post-show area of the StormStruck exhibit includes this display showcasing a continuous load path.

The post-show area of the StormStruck exhibit includes this display showcasing a continuous load path.

Perhaps the biggest outcome of our work with FLASH is our partnership in “StormStruck: A Tale of Two Homes®, located at INNOVENTIONS in Epcot® at the Walt Disney World Resort. StormStruck is a fun, interactive 4D experience that teaches visitors the steps they can take to protect their homes and families during severe weather. Visitors experience a storm and its effects on the “house” they are sitting in, and then decide how to best rebuild to resist the next storm. StormStruck has been seen by almost 800,000 people in the past year, and more than four million since opening in 2008. If you visit EPCOT®, be sure to head over to INNOVENTIONS East to see our exhibit. Continue reading

Overview of Code-Plus Programs

Our resident code expert, Branch Engineer Randy Shackelford, P.E., discussed some of the code-plus programs in the October 2012 issue of the Simpson Strong-Tie® Structural Report newsletter (Sign up for newsletters here). Randy has been an engineer for the Simpson Strong-Tie Southeast Region since 1994. He is an active member of several influential committees, including the AISI Committee on Framing Standards, the American Wood Council Wood Design Standards Committee, and the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes Technical Advisory Committee. He is vice-president and member of the Board of Directors of the National Storm Shelter Association. Randy has been a guest speaker at numerous outside seminars and workshops as a connector and high wind expert.

I wanted to share Randy’s informative newsletter article on the blog. Here is his post:

We all know that the purpose of a building code is to provide minimum requirements for the health, safety, and welfare of the occupants of buildings built under that code.  But what if the owner wants a building that will perform better than the absolute minimum allowed by the code?

There are several “code-plus” programs throughout the country that spell out prescriptive requirements for constructing buildings that are more resistant to local hazards than the code-minimum structure.

One of the more well-known code-plus programs is the “FORTIFIED” series from the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS). The series consists of three basic programs: FORTIFIED Home, FORTIFIED for Safer Living® (new construction), and FORTIFIED for Safer Business®. The FORTIFIED Home program consists of a set of levels, or tiers of reinforcement, that can be applied to either a new or existing home. Each level builds on the previous level, and they are designated as Bronze, Silver, and Gold level.

Continue reading