Researchers: Simple Changes May Help Homes Better Survive Tornadoes

By Enoch, Ed | The Tuscaloosa News, May 4, 2014 | Go to article overview

Researchers: Simple Changes May Help Homes Better Survive Tornadoes


Enoch, Ed, The Tuscaloosa News


Researchers, including faculty and students from the University of Alabama, who studied the aftermath of a devastating 2013 tornado in Oklahoma say simple design changes could improve the survivability of wood-frame structures such as residential homes during tornadoes.

"There are some simple things you could do to keep you house together," said Andrew Graettinger, the research team's lead investigator.

Graettinger, an associate professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering, was part of a team of researchers from eight institutions that traveled to Moore, Okla., in late May 2013 to gather data on damage to wood-frame structures and storm shelters in the aftermath of a powerful tornado that destroyed 12,000 buildings and killed 24 people on May 20.

The storm, which left a 17-mile damage track, caused an estimated $3 billion in damage and economic losses. The team, whose work was funded by National Science Foundation grants, conducted similar research following similar massive tornadoes in Tuscaloosa and Joplin, Mo., in 2011.

As part of a 138-page report on their findings, the researchers recommended

tornado-prone areas adopt more robust hurricane design standards similar to those used by coastal regions to help homes survive and the additional use of safe rooms or storm shelters to help inhabitants survive.

The recommendation of more robust designs is aimed at new construction, Graettinger said, noting many of the fixes would be difficult to retroactively install in existing homes.

The researchers presented their findings earlier this year. Graettinger said the team was trying to complete its work in time to present it to gatherings of professional engineering and construction associations this spring.

The researchers presented their work in early April at the 2014 Structure Congress, which was held in Boston, hosted by the Structural Engineering Institute of the American Society of Civil Engineers.

The information gleaned by researchers from a storm's wake will likely matriculate through the professional communities and eventually find its way into building codes, Graettinger said. In April, Moore, Okla., adopted changes to its building code meant to help residential homes survive tornado-force winds.

"It is a long process to do this, but at the same time any individual (homebuilder) can do it today," Graettinger said.

Graettinger and his teammates spent three days exploring the damage in Oklahoma in late May 2013.

The researcher recorded damage using photographs taken by the team, GPS locations, 3-D scans and photos mined from social media. The information was combined using Geographic Information System technology,

The researchers used similar approaches in the study of the damage from the 2011 storms but have been refining it along the way. The team geolocated photos and data it collected to help construct a more detailed understanding and map of the damage pattern from the storms. …

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