Life Safety

New Building Codes Call for Storm-Resistant Buildings and Shelters

Large parts of the Central U.S. and the U.S. Gulf coast are disproportionately affected by tornados, windstorms and hurricanes that threaten property and personal safety. Tornado Alley, the nickname given to the southern plains states including Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado and South Dakota, typically experiences severe weather during the spring and early fall. The states along the Gulf Coast face volatile storm systems and tornados in the late fall during hurricane season.

Many tornado- and windstorm-prone states and municipalities are adopting more stringent life-safety building codes and standards that are challenging architects and contractors to design stronger and safer structures. In many cases, these codes require interior safe rooms or stand-alone buildings that are designed to provide what the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has termed as “near absolute protection” to building occupants in areas where windstorms are more common.

The urgency of building according to these new standards has increased in recent years with the devastation of communities across the Midwest and Southeast because of tornadoes, along with the severe and costly destruction of cities and towns across the U.S. Gulf Coast from large storms like Hurricane Katrina.

These new life-safety requirements can create financial challenges, especially for schools and other high occupancy buildings that may now be required to provide FEMA rated safe rooms for all building occupants. Insulated concrete block is an ideal material that meets these requirements.

Wall systems that use concrete are proven to offer a great combination of performance and cost effectiveness for constructing hazard-resistant buildings and safe rooms that can withstand the powerful winds and destructive flying debris associated with tornadoes and hurricanes. Tests performed at the Texas Tech Wind Science and Engineering (WiSE) labs have confirmed that insulated concrete blocks with a masonry finish provides a stronger, more cost effective option for providing wind debris protection while also delivering superior energy efficiency, fire safety, and noise reduction. This building technique offers architects and contractors a solution to address the challenges of constructing commercial buildings that can withstand extreme weather and protect their occupants.