On the coverage about tornadoes and building practices recently, there was an engineer at one of the universities who said, it isn’t that we can’t build to be hurricane and tornado proof – it is the cost of doing it. And, I’ve been thinking about that.
At one time in America, it was important to build buildings and houses to be lasting safe harbors for human lives to unfold there – and for generations beyond the one in which it was built. But, in my lifetime, those buildings and housing practices as well as the foundation principles behind them – changed to be a quick result, cost-cutting, corner cutting, lick it and stick it principle of building with limited life terms expected for those structures.
Unfortunately, doing it this way cutting corners to cut building costs initially isn’t practical in the long run because several generations will live in a house, even if those people are not the original owners of it. Long into its lifetime, that housing structure must provide safety and support to those families residing in it long after it was built. The same is true for buildings and commercial structures, for schools, for hospitals and government buildings, (even local ones.)
Building and houses aren’t being built to withstand real life conditions anymore and haven’t been being built that way for a long time now in America. The generations of people living in these structures now or going to work and to school in these buildings within their community are the recipients of places that are not safe, do not withstand storms and high winds, are structurally deficient, costly to upkeep or remediate, and impossible to survive during many commonly occurring events today from tornadoes to hurricanes to floods to wildfires to earthquakes to surviving the normal aging conditions of those structures.
Across the nation, we have invested in my lifetime in building things that won’t last and aren’t even intended to last. The bigger cost of this practice aside from the tremendous loss of life that it causes, is that now those structures have to be retrofitted, remediated or knocked down and rebuilt. It is a total waste and an unnecessary danger. People believe they are safe in their homes, that their children are safe in their schools, that their loved ones are safe in hospital structures, and that they are safe in the buildings where they work – but in a variety of ways, these beliefs have been shown to be ill-conceived.
When a storm surge comes, those inside many structures are endangered although they rest inside as if it cannot hurt them and make decisions to stay based on the idea that their home, business building or nearby structures will stay intact and are safe – when in fact, they are not safe nor even built to be safe in such an event.
When high winds from tornadoes or hurricanes, from blizzards, nor’easters and heavy thunderstorms come, people hide in their homes as if that will afford protection to them and their families. But when these structures were built within the last fifty years, very few of them were built with hurricane straps, glue and screw methods, reinforcement of any kind, external wall reinforcement or in many cases, any basement, storm shelter or safe room against extreme weather events.
Often in my lifetime, town and city councils removed requirements from building codes that would have required basements or storm shelters as well as removing restrictions on building areas that would have prevented development from being built in flood plains, or where marshes take up the storm surge along coastal flood zones. In one area of Metro Atlanta, a twenty foot wall of water overtook several developments with hundreds of homes and many, many businesses because the known flood plain near a river had been developed rather than set aside. So, not only were all of those lives and families put at risk and endangered to an extreme degree, but every single house had to be bought back to allow people to go live somewhere else.
It was a complete loss of their belongings, their money invested in their homes and community as well as destroying the business and community structures put into the same area. It was nothing but a massive loss with injuries and loss of lives unnecessarily as well. The area was known as a flood plain well ahead of time before any development was made there. Absolutely none of the homeowners or decision-makers for businesses that relocated there were told of the fact that flooding was likely, sooner or later – and why flooding would be likely.
This is a video from recent tornadoes near St. Louis last week -
From a structural engineering team that examined damage from storm surges in Staten Island, NYC, NJ, CT from Hurricane Sandy last October (2012).
Breeze on down the page and there are photos with explanations from a structural point of view explaining the impacts -
“Much of the observed damage in this region was to homes—even new ones—not built to FEMA guidelines.”
Another impact of Sandy was widespread pollution caused by floodwaters carrying a variety of toxic chemicals, petroleum, and fluids from cars and boats. In addition, floodwaters in Manhattan carried contaminants from inundated subways and tunnels, roads and parking lots, and floodwaters in industrial areas, such as Kearny and Secaucus, New Jersey, carried contaminants washed from shoreline industrial sites as well as commercial and residential buildings. These hazardous floodwaters, combined with sewage overflows, led to contamination in several neighborhoods along the coast.
Above notes that almost all flooding dangers in the US are compounded by commercial and industrial chemical pollution as well as sewage pollution being added to the waters of the storm surge, rising waters or flood. When codes that define how these are to be stored, contained, protected, and public safety protected from them are not enforced or are changed to reflect lower standards, these elements contribute significant dangers to an otherwise difficult flooding situation.
Most of these dangers cannot be remediated easily after the fact and it makes a great deal more sense for the safety of people’s lives and future health to have all of these pollutants better contained in relation to any possible event that could spill them into flood waters and then into neighborhoods and business complexes where people will later work and shop, as well as to keep them from inundating health care facilities, hospitals and nursing homes, schools, parks and other public spaces. However, in America today in almost any location, those legal demands on businesses and industries for proper containment of the chemicals they use and store have been reduced rather than bolstered as they would have been (which could have made them progressively safer rather than the other way around.)
Pictures of Moore, Oklahoma from the tornado last week -
This photo from CNN in particular – obviously the way that buildings have been built with these large roof support beams – in this case, an elementary school -
This building may as well have not existed at all for any protection from a storm. In fact, the building materials became as dangerous, if not more so – than the storm winds from the tornado since everything in it became shrapnel and life ending projectiles. It offered no protection from the storm for anyone who may have worked there or been customers there when the tornado hit.