In the past few days, I’ve heard things from family members and friends that are very disturbing about the tornadoes that have devastated the nation over the weeks of April this year.
It is unacceptable. The ideas presented to me were plainly wrong. There were over 300 people whose lives were lost in the tornadoes that blasted across Alabama, and other states of the South just two days ago. The days and weeks before that have shown all of us, homes that were leveled, towns decimated and lives lost and shattered. There is no excuse for it to be that way. It is 2011.
One of the excuses I heard is that it is “2012 when the world ends that is here early in 2011” and to fight it would be senseless. Another idea repeated to me from three different people, is that there is no way to control winds, storms, things like the jet stream and tornadoes – that to do so we would have to be God. Other ideas explained to me were repeated from various broadcasts of the am radio talk shows and other online information sources who say there is no way that anyone can do anything about any of these things since it is part of the “end times” and can be expected to get worse, not better. And, along with explanations on many business shows, business journals, business and financial blogs and tv broadcasts – there are a multitude of quotes to explain how America is falling and that we cannot expect to stand up again as number one in the world. Now, wait a minute . . .
Just hold the gd phone.
Back it up and rewind that entire set of conversations. I don’t know who told these family members and friends that to do something is to not accept our place as human beings and try to do what only God can do. I don’t know exactly, although I have a pretty good idea, where these people in my life got these lines of thinking which say there is nothing that anyone can do about all this and nor should we make the effort to do so. I don’t know how the excuse that “it is the end of the world anyway,” means we are all supposed to throw up our hands and tend to our own momentary satisfactions without seeking to do much else about anything. And, I don’t care, either – where these people got these ideas. I do know they are wrong.
When it rains, we put an umbrella over our heads. We don’t just stand out there in the rain without doing anything about it simply because “God” sent rain. We make lightning rods to go on our homes and businesses, which were designed by a brilliant man in our nation’s history who saw a problem and found a way to provide a naturally based principled solution. It has saved lives, homes, families, businesses and communities where people at one time in history believed that there was no way to stop lightning – that it was what amounted to an “act of God” which no human could expect to change, alter or do anything to provide safety against. Those people were not considering even finding a way to do something about it, but one man did and now we have lightning rods on damn near every single building, structure, skyscraper, and everything else that is built to withstand the natural elements.
The building industry has known for well over a thousand years, that the basic protection for people’s lives during storms with tornadoes forming and reeking havoc, is for structures, homes, buildings, restaurants, malls, schools, hospitals, and living spaces to have a basement or storm cellar. It is not rocket science. It is a known quantity which works. At some point, the building industry, cities and towns policy makers, developers and other decision makers decided to not require basements and storm cellars for every single home and every single structure built in their communities. Well, that was wrong.
We put dams and levees up to control flooding. We don’t just sit back and say – well, if the place floods, then it was meant to be. That is called, “engineering” and is why we have those multitudes of engineering disciplines to this day. We have architectural and structural engineering disciplines that create to a better standard than throwing up a few sticks and calling it a house. And, the homes in these recent tornadoes yielded NO real harbor or safety from the storms. They acted as what they’ve become, pasteboard and brittle sticks rather than a reinforced, flexible and safe structure to protect the families and lives housed within them. That is unacceptable.
And, I don’t know what we’ll have to do – if it is to incorporate some type of polymer dip for the framing wood to give them more strength and flexibility, add re-bar to the core of brick facades which are held together by unreinforced masonry, create better building methods generally to withstand these types of extreme events, or find a way to cut those tornadoes in half and dissipate them in some manner before they get on the ground tearing up the place – but I do know that requiring basements and storm cellars to be built into every single structure is a known successful defense against loss of life.
I do know that we could do that everywhere in short order – retrofitting existing structures with storm cellars and below ground level basements – including homes, businesses, county buildings, schools, industrial plants, everything. And, I do know it isn’t just required in Kansas anymore – which has been evidenced for a long, long, long time. Why these 300 lives were lost a couple days ago, within seconds as their homes were obliterated – is no longer an acceptable excuse. And, the world has ended at least 8 or 9 thousands times according to various religious predictions across history. It isn’t an excuse to sit idly by while solutions could be applied to save lives, communities and families from known dangers with known outcomes by using either known solutions or engineering new ones that work.
And, there is no excuse whatsoever for anyone living in a mobile home or trailer staying in it believing there is some protection from a severe storm, extreme or damaging winds, and tornadoes. Especially in these housing types and their mobile home parks, on their individual private property where mobile home owners have set up housekeeping, and in mobile home communities – there absolutely has to be an enforceable code by every town, city and county requiring a storm cellar be added on site. For mobile home parks and communities, central community storm shelters in an underground basement at their community clubhouse or something must be required of those community owners with enough storm cellar or basement space to protect all of the people with all of their family members who live there. It has to be close enough to walk to it and get into it within a couple minutes – not sitting hundreds of yards away from significant portions of the residents’ homes.
The attitudes expressed to me over the past few days demanding that none of us give a damn about all this and insisting that no one can or should try to do anything about this – are attitudes commonly repeated and still wrong. They are based in someone not thinking through what they were saying – we do have homes because they were engineered solutions to our need as humans for protection from the elements. We did not – “just not give a damn about it” and sit out in the fields and woods never making something of a solution to protect ourselves as a species. We did, in fact – create many solutions to it and meshed solutions from many different people to have more than nature gave us in the first place. Or else we would all still be standing out in the rain without an umbrella or house in existence at all.
AND – people need to vote with their dollars by NOT BUYING any house or business structure that doesn’t have a basement, cellar or storm cellar in it.
When that happens, builders will start adding basements to protect people’s lives and building inspectors / county codes will require either basements or storm cellars in every structure and home in America as it should’ve been in the first place knowing what we know about tornadoes, storms, hurricanes and extreme wind events.
From what I can tell, the homeowners’ associations in many communities could have made a central storm safe space available – most have expensive clubhouses that are rarely used by anybody. They’ve paid for swimming pools – they’ve charge association fees. Surely they could add something more useful along with it – like public announcements throughout the neighborhood when tornado spawning storms are coming – or at the very least, provide a basement for people in the neighborhood to come and have some protection from those events.
But, sooner or later – there are still two parts which need serious workable solutions – one is to stop the tornadoes from spawning in the first place or after the conditions have developed to make them likely. And, as much as I appreciate the magnitude of these forces – we, as a people have changed all kinds of things in the landscape – which could just as easily also be changed to provide “wind breaks,” special heating or cooling zones in the landscape to help dissipate the storms’ power or alter them, some kind of lateral slicing through the tornado kind of thing that would act the same way as sticking a hand laterally through a whirlpool in the bathtub when the drain makes one, and/or sculptured land planning in the same manner as the buildings and heat zones of and altered air foils of cities with their skyscrapers, parking lots, freeways, streets and buildings change the likelihood of storms producing tornadoes.
Although cities are hit with tornadoes from time to time, it is far less frequently and with less running distance of damage that is somehow changed by virtue of the ways cities are constructed and contain heat or alter wind patterns and wind shear. Maybe the tall buildings force eddies in the air currents which change the dynamic or push them down or around in dividing ways – that principle which is working around cities could be used and applied for tornado development zones. But, not just in Kansas – the dust bowl thinking of people stuck in 1930 something has got to stop. The Southern States have suffered inordinately high numbers of tornadoes for many years with the recent outbreaks of weather patterns differing in the severity and multiple development fronts. There is no reason that any state of the South should have any homes without basements in this day and age. There is no reason they couldn’t apply the massive knowledge our scientists and universities have discovered into tangible solutions – whether wind breaks or satellite looks at re-interpreting some parts of the landscape to dissipate these damaging winds when they do get started.
These things could be done.
The second thing that needs to be done – is to make our houses into safe harbors for human lives. They are not that now. It is inexcusable that our homes have become (and that includes apartments, condos, workplaces, some buildings, shopping areas, and large industrial workspaces under thin metal sheeting, etc.) – nothing but pasteboard and brittle sticks – no matter what they seem to look like on the outside. That is unacceptable.
Every structure needs to be retrofit in some way to be substantially safer along with adding basements or storm shelters/ storm cellars to all of them.
There are Geotextiles now and polymer / carbon nano fiber based fabrics that never existed before. There is a man who designed homes for hurricane prone areas which are glued and screwed rather than to allow the wind getting up into the structure tearing it apart as it goes. There are new types of cement and retrofitting systems to make unreinforced masonry into reinforced, strong but flexible structures. There are building materials, knowledge, science, engineering, materials science, structural engineering knowledge and research which 30 years ago, didn’t even exist.
Strides have been made in collecting data and information, analyzing the data and understanding the results. It has been public information available to everyone. Out of all that – it is far past the time to take it and weave new practical solutions from it to apply throughout our nation for the safety of families, children, people, young lives and old – there is no excuse for what has just happened to take these lives from all of us and from our communities by tornadoes damaging structures which weren’t much more protection than a cardboard box would’ve been. It is not acceptable for it to keep being that way.
And, where building techniques were known a hundred years ago or in 1930 something which worked to keep lives safe, but in our modern world were abandoned – those need to be brought forward and used as well.
That includes – if a house doesn’t have a basement or storm cellar – don’t buy it. Life is too precious to put up with it – there are no savings financially by getting a house or business without a basement. Dead or maimed from a tornado because there was nowhere in the house safe from it – is not a financial advantage no matter how good that house looks on the outside.
President Obama visits Alabama’s storm ravaged areas today – (CNN)
Tuscaloosa, Alabama (CNN) — President Barack Obama arrived in Alabama on Friday, the hardest-hit of six states ravaged by a series of storms and tornadoes that killed nearly 300 people and left entire neighborhoods in ruins.
Obama was scheduled to meet with families affected by the storms as well as government officials.(etc.)
Photos: Nightmare scenes in Alabama after deadly storms sweep South – (CNN)
Janet Pucket surveys the damage outside her home in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, on Thursday, April 28, after a tornado hit the area Wednesday. (etc.)