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Nashville, Tennessee, 2020: People clean trash from their yard and start to cut a fallen tree the morning after a tornado rips through Nashville.
Resilience 2021: Tornado Season is on the Horizon. Are You Prepared?
Posted By Christine Cube

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports there were more than 1,200 tornadoes in 2020, leading to the highest tornado death rate in almost a decade.

Last year, a deadly tornado outbreak affected the Southeastern United States on Easter Sunday and Monday, causing 32 fatalities. This was part of a larger severe convective storm (SCS) that affected the Plains, Midwest, and Mid-Atlantic states, and it led to at least $3 billion in insured losses. Data shows that on August 10, the derecho that slammed the Midwest was the costliest SCS in U.S. history, causing $11 billion in damage, according to the National Weather Service.

“Mitigation saves up to $13 for every dollar spent on mitigation,” said NIBS President & CEO Lakisha A. Woods, referencing the Natural Hazard Mitigation Saves report.

Since tornadoes and wind-heavy storms can happen anywhere at any time, it was important to share tornado and wind storm expertise with attendees of the recent Resilience 2021 webinar, Tornado Season is on the Horizon. Are You Prepared?

On March 23, 2021, the National Institute of Building Sciences hosted more than 450 registrants, who learned general tips and information about how to stay prepared in the event of a tornado or wind storm as well as wind mitigation for homes.

We Are Not Powerless

Dr. Anne Cope, PHD, P.E., Chief Engineer with the Insurance Institute for Building and Home Safety, says homeowners and businesses are not powerless, when it comes to minimizing tornado damage.

“There is a lot you can do to narrow the path of a tornado,” she said. “You want to keep Mother Nature out.”

First, shut all interior and exterior doors. This small act will help compartmentalize your building. Even if debris enters your home, shut doors may keep the damage contained.

Next, take a closer look at your garage door. This is the largest door to homes and having a strong wind-rated garage door is one of the best things you can do to mitigate damage. A FORTIFIED Roof goes beyond code, and also might be worth the investment.

In the event of wind/tornado plus rain, it’s important to keep the rain from getting into the house. Cope shared that one inch of rainwater is equivalent to nine bathtubs of water entering your home.

Also keeping your home thunderstorm-ready is a good rule of thumb. Reduce the opportunity for flying debris by clearing tree branches and children’s belongings around the perimeter of the house.

Lastly, if there’s a severe wind storm or tornado headed your way, grab your bike helmet and move to the center of your home.

Mississippi: 96 Community Saferooms

Mississippi has experienced a lot of tornado activity, as recently as the week of March 15, 2021.

For those series of storms, masks were required and distributed and social distancing was observed as much as possible, said Jana Nyette Henderson, Office of Mitigation Director with the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency.

Many of the state’s 96 community hurricane and tornado saferooms are located in schools and communities in rural counties. Saferooms are designed to withstand a 250-mph wind event.

Henderson said tornado saferooms are designed for high wind speeds, less flooding risk, less space requirements, and short-term, two-hour occupancy. Saferooms also must be fully functional on their own. Henderson said additional requirements include self-contained and protected water supply tanks, sewer treatment system, and generators with fuel tanks.

One of the largest saferooms in Mississippi is located at Tupelo High School, and there are more under construction throughout the state.

Currently, there are no tax incentives for homeowners, who install a saferoom in their homes in Mississippi.

Most of the state’s saferooms were funded through the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), she said. Local governments provided a 25 percent match.

ICC High-Wind Provisions

The International Code Council develops and maintains the model building codes used for design, construction, and compliance programs across the U.S. The I-Codes regulate new construction, major renovations, plumbing, sanitation, fire prevention, energy conservation, and more.

Sara Yerkes, Senior Vice President of Governmental Affairs with the International Code Council, shared examples of high-wind provisions in the International Building Code for commercial buildings and high-rises and the International Residential Code for residential construction of family dwellings.

These provisions include:

  • Enhanced nailing patterns, with more nails and closer spacings to keep roof decks attached to roof trusses.
  • Strengthened connections from the roof to the walls to the foundation to keep roofs from blowing off, walls from collapsing, or houses from sliding off their foundations.
  • Glazing or coverings like shutters for windows, doors and other openings like garage doors, so wind-borne debris or other projectiles cannot break glass or push through.
  • Wind resistance for roof coverings like shingles or tiles and use of proper installation methods.
  • Tornado shelters in new K-12 schools and emergency response facilities in tornado-prone areas.

Yerkes also discussed ICC/NSSA 500 Standard, which was developed with the National Storm Shelter Association, for the design and construction of storm shelters and ICC 600 Standard for residential construction in high wind regions, which provides prescriptive requirements for the design and construction of residential structures in high wind regions that go beyond the requirements within the base of the residential code.

“ICC 500 is now a mandatory provision in the model building code,” Yerkes said. “But it is up to the jurisdiction to keep it in the code when they review the code for adoption. Many times, those provisions are deleted from the code they adopt or they’re just not enforced.”

If jurisdictions were to adopt this provision, Yerkes said: “It would make a tremendous impact everywhere. Every state is at risk of getting hit by a tornado.”

What Else You Can Do

To reduce the impact of tornadoes and wind events, IBHS’ Cope said consumers and business owners should make informed choices when it comes to replacing the garage door or roof.

“For the small business owner, when replacing roll-up doors, you’ll want something that’s proper for the wind in your area,” she said.

Something as simple as a “spot check” will go a long way. For example: Do you have the same number of fasteners on both sides of a garage door?

Many times, walls are plenty strong, but contain weak connections between the walls and to the roof.

“The connection to the building system is critical,” Cope said.

Make sure you work with a quality vendor on home improvements.

When it comes to retrofitting options for nursing homes, Cope mentioned the FORTIFIED Commercial Standard, which outlines a comprehensive checklist of necessary items, including back-up generators.

Register Now For the Next Resilience 2021 Webinar

The next Resilience 2021 webinar is scheduled for April 20, 2021. The topic: How to Stay Safe as Lockdowns Lift and Buildings Reopen.

Many buildings have sat empty for the better part of a year. What are the possible health risks that people face with returning to these unoccupied spaces?

Our panel of experts will discuss this and how they see the building industry recalibrating itself to adjust to a post-pandemic world.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports the temporary shutdown or reduced operation of a building and reductions in normal water use can create hazards for returning occupants. These hazards include mold, Legionella (the cause of Legionnaires’ disease), and lead and copper contamination.

The building industry must consider transformational initiatives to thrive beyond this pandemic. Our mission now is not only building resilient buildings but a resilient industry as well. In this installment of the Resilience 2021 series, we will discuss:

  • Health risks unoccupied buildings pose
  • Proper water and plumbing protocols
  • UV light decontamination
  • Intelligent buildings and the utilization of AI

Register today

Resilience/Risk Management