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.

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Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Strategy

I confess that I listen to a lot of pop music while driving to work, mostly because I forget to change the station after dropping the kids off. It can be slightly embarrassing if I drive with a coworker and I’m tuned into the “all Bieber, all day” station when I start the car.

On Monday, I was without kids and managed to hear several news stories on NPR about Hurricane Sandy. Transcript of one story is here and the NPR blog post about it is here.

The Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force released a report titled Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Strategy. The report has 69 recommendations ranging from complex, such as setting minimum flood elevations that account for projected sea level rise, to relatively simple, such as states and localities adopting and enforcing the most current versions of the IBC® and IRC®.

The recommendations cover energy, infrastructure, sanitation, water, fuel supply, internet, transportation, and too many other things to list. But if I had to pick one word to summarize the report, it would be:

Resilience: The ability to prepare for and adapt to changing conditions and withstand and recover rapidly from disruptions.

Regardless of whether the natural disaster is high wind, earthquake, flood or fire, there has been a shift in public policy over the past decade to emphasize resilience. Resilience is a cycle. It begins with mitigation before the disaster. Some examples of mitigation that have appeared in this blog:

Seismic Retrofit of Unreinforced Masonry (URM) Buildings

Soft-Story Retrofits

Building a Storm Shelter to ICC-500 Design Requirements

Designing new buildings with specific performance targets is a form of mitigation as well. Resilience continues with response after the disaster, and then short and long-term recovery plans to reduce the time between disaster and recovery.

Have recent natural disasters such as Hurricane Sandy changed the way you are designing? Let us know by posting a comment.

– Paul

Rebuilding with Simpson Strong-Tie Products After Hurricane Sandy

Our factory in Gallatin, TN held a Fastener Summit Meeting this past June, which brought together people from all areas of our fastener business. Somewhere, sometime we started calling these meetings “Summits” and the name stuck. The purpose of the Summit is to facilitate candid discussions about what we need to do to better support our customers’ needs through new product development, new application testing, literature, training, or sales distribution.

One of our fastener sales specialists shared a great story about a New Jersey town’s decision to build a better boardwalk following Superstorm Sandy. The town of Seaside Heights decided to design and build a boardwalk to better address future storms. Along with being a local icon, the boardwalk is an integral part of the town’s economy.

Seaside Heights boardwalk rebuild.
Seaside Heights boardwalk rebuild.

Working hand in hand with the town’s borough officials, the project’s engineering firm and contractor, our Columbus, OH branch worked to tirelessly to develop construction solutions to save time and money on this critical project. For Simpson Strong-Tie, this involved testing and ramping up production of stainless steel product to ensure no delays for the project.

A little over two months after Seaside Heights Mayor Bill Akers drove the first deck board screw using our Quik Drive auto-feed screw system, the boardwalk was complete. NBC’s Today Show broadcast live from the boardwalk with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie on May 24. There’s also a cool video on the New York Fox News website showing different time lapse views of the build here.

Seaside Heights Mayor Bill Akers drive in the first screw.
Seaside Heights Mayor Bill Akers drives in the first screw.
The Today Show airs live from the reconstructed boardwalk.
NBC’s Today Show airs live from the reconstructed boardwalk.

You can read the full story in the July issue of our Structural Report newsletter.

– Paul

What Did Sandy Teach Us?

In the weeks following Hurricane Sandy, I had an opportunity to visit some of the hardest hit communities in the region. At the time, many of New Jersey’s barrier islands were still completely closed off to civilian traffic and all accessible bridges were blocked by military guards. Our local territory manager has great relationships with building departments, so we were able to walk portions of Long Beach Island, NJ with an inspector. The storm surge washed out several sections of the protective sand dunes on the south end of the island in the neighborhood of Holgate and this is where we spent much of the day.

Holgate, NJ
Holgate, NJ
Scoured foundation temporarily shored. Holgate, NJ.
Scoured foundation temporarily shored. Holgate, NJ.

For a structural engineer, there was a lot to observe and many things I could write about here (maybe a future post), but what strikes me the most when looking back is the long- term impact this event will have on the region. The cost of Sandy goes beyond the loss of life and property (72 lives, $50 billion and growing). It would be difficult to estimate a dollar amount that accounts for the displacement of people and disruption to their lives, the hit to local economies that depend heavily on tourism, and the effect on the national economy and taxpayers; but I imagine it would be a staggering sum. So what, if anything, can structural engineers do about it?Continue Reading