Canadian Underwriter

U.S. consumer advocate calls for devastation prevention measures in tornado zones

April 13, 2015   by Canadian Underwriter

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Following the deadly events in Illinois last week, the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH) has reiterated the need to be better prepared by changing the construction philosophy in tornado zones.

The tornado hit the northern Illinois town of Fairdale, killing at least one person, injuring seven and sweeping homes off their foundations. (Photo: Jon Durr/Getty Images)

The non-profit group has called for adopting devastation prevention measures and the groundbreaking construction philosophy that emerged after the catastrophic Tuscaloosa, Joplin and Moore tornado outbreaks, notes a statement Thursday from FLASH, a leading consumer advocate for strengthening homes and safeguarding families from natural and manmade disasters.

The costliest U.S. catastrophe involving tornadoes hit Tuscaloosa, Alabama and other areas in April 2011, notes a statement Friday from the Insurance Information Institute (III). This event caused US$7.5 billion in insured losses (in 2013 dollars). The second most costly tornado was the May 2011 event in Joplin, Missouri and other locations, which resulted in US$7.1 billion in insured losses (also in 2013 dollars), III reports.

“It is time to spread the word to leaders that by adding $1 per square foot to the cost of construction and incorporating tornado safe rooms to homes in high-wind zones, the deadly pattern of death and destruction can be forever altered,” FLASH emphasizes.

Citing a study from 2013, FLASH reports that the American Society of Civil Engineers, Federal Emergency Management Agency building science engineers, and leading academic researchers detailed the Dual-Objective-Based Tornado Design Philosophy, which defies traditional assertions that “there is nothing you can affordably build to withstand tornadoes.”

The research, based on field investigations, documented a pattern of disproportionate structure collapse in tornado outbreaks and point out how even small design changes can make a difference.

Guidelines developed to estimate tornado-induced loads “will provide reasonable targets for designers to use in their future work. Homes built to these newer, research-informed guidelines will have the advantage of better wall bracing, improved roof tie-downs and overall stronger connections,” the statement adds.

David Prevatt, associate professor in the University of Florida’s Department of Civil and Coastal Engineering, is quoted as saying: “Our research demonstrates it is possible to design and build houses that protect people and structures from deadly winds. Techniques developed and implemented in Florida that have reduced hurricane losses can be applied and used in houses to also reduce tornado losses.”

Related: 1 dead after tornado hits tiny Illinois town, destroying homes as storms hit in several states

FLASH reports that National Climatic Data Center research shows 95% of the damage generated occurs at tornadoes EF-3 and below. “What this means is that the enhanced practices can bring material increases in home strength,” the statement notes. And since 90% “of all tornadoes never exceed EF-2 with winds of up to 135 mph, wind-resistant building practices can save lives and dramatically improve building performance in nearly every tornado event.”

FLASH recently analyzed and released updated NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Storm Prediction Center data that shows almost 90% of U.S. counties experience tornado watches. “This information underscores the point that building differently is not just beneficial to those who are directly hit by tornadoes. Having a stronger home and a safe room will bring beneficial peace of mind to all in harm’s way,” FLASH adds.

III notes that Property Claim Services has reported tornadoes accounted for 37.2% of insured catastrophe losses from 1994 to 2013. Citing figures from Munich Re, the institute adds that in 2013, insured losses from U.S. tornadoes/thunderstorms totaled US$10.3 billion, down from US$15 billion in 2012.

III adds that preliminary NOAA data shows there were 831 tornadoes in the U.S. last year through October 27 compared with 811 during the same period the previous year.

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