Written by Cory Chandler

Lubbock Tragedy Sparks Research that Leads to Tornado-Proof Houses for Poor

Date: May 4, 2005
CONTACT: Cory Chandler, cory.chandler@ttu.edu

LUBBOCK –Thirty-five years after a twister ripped through this West Texas city, killing 26 people and causing more than $100 million in damages, a partnership between Texas Tech University and the concrete industry has led to safer homes for low income Lubbock families.

Texas Tech began its study of wind damage and mitigation soon after a tornado struck Lubbock May 11, 1970. Now, nearly 35 years later, Lubbock and the cement industry are using the results of Texas Tech’s research to offer tornado-proof affordable housing in some of the very neighborhoods ravaged by that disaster.

The partnership began when the Portland Cement Association – an organization representing cement companies in the United States and Canada – decided to test the storm tolerance of residential concrete walls against those made with conventional wood framing. They approached the Wind Science and Engineering Research Center at Texas Tech about doing the study.

The results of the research, which simulated the impact of debris hurled by some of the biggest tornados seen in the United States, showed that concrete walls have the strength and mass to resist the impact of wind-driven debris better than those found in wood-frame homes.

In 1998, Lubbock’s Community Development Department started offering insulating concrete form construction through its Affordable Housing Reconstruction Program. Since then, it has demolished more than 90 substandard and deteriorating homes and replaced them with tornado-resistant homes – using concrete materials studied at the very research center created in the wake of the Lubbock tornado. What’s more, many of those homes now stand in or near neighborhoods that once lay in the tornado’s path.

As of March, the City of Lubbock – and three concrete wall distributors – had trained and certified a total of 13 contractors to build with insulating concrete forms. These houses present additional benefits to their occupants by resisting fire and insects while cutting energy costs.

CONTACT: Chad Morris, associate director, Wind Science and Engineering
Center, Texas Tech University, (806) 742-3479, ext. 321, or chad.morris@ttu.edu.

Jim Niehoff, residential promotion manager, Portland Cement Association, (847) 972-9108 or jniehoff@cement.org.

Brad Reed, special housing inspector, City of Lubbock Community Development Department, (806) 775-2294 or breed@mail.ci.lubbock.tx.us.