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The images of homes devastated by hurricanes, tornadoes and severe wind storms is heartbreaking.
It's just as tragic to see entire businesses and communities leveled within minutes in the wake of a damaging storm.
In July 2012, a storm completely damaged the Claysville Snack Bar in Marshall County, Alabama. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but the owner wasn't sure if she would be able to rebuild.
"You know, we'll just have to see how it goes," Shirley Eaves said.
Meteorologists with the National Weather Service said the diner was hit by a microburst, a powerful downdraft of sinking air that occurs in thunderstorms. The wind damage is similar to that of a tornado.
Weeks later, powerful winds leveled yet another diner.
This time it was in Richburg, South Carolina, but this damage was part of scientific study conducted by the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety inside the organization's six-story, one-of-a-kind lab.
"No matter where you live in this country, wind is a problem," IBHS CEO and President Julie Rochman told America Now. "It's a different kind of wind, but it's wind."
The IBHS conducted the wind test with two similar-looking commercial buildings constructed of concrete blocks and steel.
The diner painted yellow was built with typical construction techniques used in nearly every part of the country. The diner painted green was built using a more advanced design to make it stronger and more resilient to the wind.
"We are trying to spotlight the difference between doing things the right way versus the regular way," Rochman said.
More than 100 fans are located along one side of the massive test lab facility. When turned on, they replicate the force of mother nature's most violent winds.
A 73 mile-per-hour wind gust ripped off a portion of the roof on the yellow diner like a peeled banana.
When the winds hit 100 miles-per-hour, the roll-up garage door buckled. Wind blew through the diner sucking inventory out of an opening in the wall.
The windows shattered after two-by-fours were fired from a cannon simulating tree branches being hurled through the air.
At 110 miles-per-hour, a small, jagged crack formed near the roof line.
Within seconds, larger cracks appeared in the masonry when the wind intensified to 136 miles per hour, causing one wall of the yellow building to crumble.
The green building, or the one built utilizing improved construction techniques, had hardly any visible signs of damage.
That's because better screws, steel cleats, flashing and roof cover material were used on the stronger building's roof.
The air conditioning unit or any other equipment on the roof was anchored to the steel frame.
The wind-rated doors stayed in place better than roll-up doors on the yellow building which simply popped off their tracks.
The walls in the stronger building were reinforced with vertical steel rods every eight feet apart. The common building, however, only had steel reinforcement on the corners.
Experts say if your business is in an older building, you should have an engineer inspect the facility to determine what type of reinforcements can be made to the structure.
If you are thinking about relocating your business into another building, experts say you should find out how the structure was constructed before signing a lease or purchasing the property.
"Take the time to ask questions about how the building is put together," Rochman says. "How it's tied together is going to make all the difference in the world when a wind storm comes along and tries to tear it apart."
It cost less than five percent more to build a stronger building, as compared to the construction cost of a common practice building. In many areas of the country, five percent is less than the cost of sales tax.
Click to read the National Weather Service's definition of a microburst < http://www.srh.noaa.gov/ama/?n=microbursts>.
IBHS conducted a test comparing and contrasting high-wind performance of full-scale commercial strip mall-type structures; one was built using common construction practices and the other was built using stronger, safer wind-resistant elements.
Two 30 ft. by 20 ft., one-story masonry specimens were placed side by side on the 55-ft. diameter turntable inside the IBHS Research Center's large test chamber.
Both structures were equipped with FM Approved roofing assemblies, including the roof cover, roof deck, perimeter flashing and insulation. The difference between the two structures is that on the stronger building these items were installed using FM Global Standards, while this was not the case for the common practice building.
The components used to make the resilient building stronger and safer cost less than 5% of the total cost of the entire structure.
Actual high-wind events were simulated using IBHS' 105-fan array. Peak wind speeds and gusts were expected to reach more than 100 mph.
IBHS consulted with a number of organizations during the design and production of this demonstration, including the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers, the Door and Access Systems Manufacturers Association, FM Approvals and FM Global, the Masonry Association of Florida, the National Concrete Masonry Association, the National Roofing Contractors Association, the Roofing Industry Committee on Weather Issues, and the Single Ply Roofing Industry.
By focusing on several key components, including the roof, the doors, and the walls, business owners can significantly improve commercial building performance by utilizing relatively low-cost mitigation measures as outlined below.
Damage to single-ply membrane roofs can be reduced by using fastening that meets enhanced standards for attachment of single-ply membrane roofs and perimeter edge flashing.
Roof-top equipment can remain in place, intact, and operational during a windstorm if properly anchored.
Including wind stops will prevent overhead roll-up doors from popping out of their tracks during a windstorm. Choose wind-rated roll-up doors over conventional types, which lack these locking mechanisms; this is a common failure point in commercial buildings.
Using masonry industry reinforcing guidelines will enable walls to stand strong in a windstorm. Proper reinforcement can reduce structural damage that could lead to potentially catastrophic consequences.
In many older buildings, reinforcing of masonry was insufficient. Even today, in many parts of the country, masonry buildings are built the way they have always been built – without the amount of reinforcing recommended by national consensus guidelines and without ensuring that reinforcing is properly detailed and connected.
This test demonstrated that:
Better built structures are needed to protect consumers and workers in commercial buildings.
Small business owners, who want to stay in business and quickly recover from catastrophes, should lease, buy or build stronger, safer structures.
Carefully following high-wind construction guidance and choosing slightly more expensive products and systems can produce significantly stronger, safer buildings.
While cost differences will vary depending on the size and shape of commercial buildings, for less than 5% of the total cost of the building type IBHS used today, business owners can have the peace of mind that they have a stronger, safer structure that is more disaster-resistant than a building built using common practice construction.
Key Construction Differences
Enhanced perimeter anchorage of membrane to limit failure
Typical roof membrane attachment
Flashing/Roof Cover Edge Securement
Metal fascia crimped over continuous metal cleat
Unsupported metal fascia / no metal cleat on part of building and intermittent cleat on remainder of building
Walls built following industry guidance with proper detailing to create continuous load path from roof to foundation
Typical poor detailing / missing reinforcement
Secured to structural mounting curbs which are secured directly to the structural steel frame of the roof deck = open web bar joists
Secured on sleepers with only 4 small aluminum connectors at base; sleepers are loose laid on roof, no connection to deck
Wind-rated 9' metal roll up door with wind stops to keep door from popping out of track
Non-wind Rated 9' metal roll up door without wind stops
The IBHS is an independent, nonprofit, scientific research and communications organization supported by the property insurance industry. The organization works to reduce the social and economic effects of natural disasters and other risks on residential and commercial property by conducting building science research and advocating improved construction, maintenance and preparedness practices.