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Beefier Building Codes Helped Homes Survive Tornadoes
April 1, 2007

Wind-mitigating building codes implemented in Florida following Hurricane Andrew helped some houses resist a string of deadly tornadoes that hit the state in February, says a wind researcher who surveyed the damage.

Larry Tanner, a civil engineering research associate with Texas Tech University’s Wind Science and Engineering Research Center, studied the wreckage wrought on February 2, 2007 by a devastating string of storms that killed 20 people.

He said that stronger building standards implemented in the wake of Hurricane Andrew – which in 1992 caused 65 deaths and billions in damages – helped some newly built homes survive tornadoes that otherwise left a snarl of wreckage across four counties.

“You could quickly tell the mitigating effect of the hurricane measures,” Mr. Tanner said. “Although the buildings were damaged, they would have been in worse shape without the standards.”

This is true, he said, even though Florida codes were devised to protect against hurricanes rather than the stronger and more focused winds typical of tornadoes.

He pointed to homes located in The Villages, a vast retirement community, as examples. In many cases, changes such as reinforced garage doors and stronger roof connections in homes less than 10 years old helped keep them from collapsing.

Mr. Tanner, a longtime wind researcher, was part of a FEMA assessment team investigating the 1999 Oklahoma City tornado that killed 44 people and helped write federal guidelines. Guidelines for stronger garage doors were a part of the overall assessment recommendations. He has since studied hurricane and tornado damage at disaster sites around the country.

He praised Florida’s proactive approach to minimizing storm destruction. After investigating the aftermath of hurricanes such as Katrina and Ivan, he said he has seen firsthand how noticeably more destructive wind events are in states without Florida-type construction standards.

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