Beefier Building Codes Helped Some Florida Homes Survive Tornados

Standards devised after Hurricane Andrew reduced damages, engineer says.

Written by Cory Chandler

Wind-mitigating building codes implemented in Florida following Hurricane Andrew helped some houses resist a string of deadly tornadoes that hit the state earlier this month, 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 Feb. 2 by a devastating string of storms that killed 20 people in Central Florida.

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 tornados that otherwise left a snarl of wreckage across four counties.

"You could quickly tell the mitigating effect of the hurricane measures," 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 tornados.

He pointed to homes located in the vast retirement community The Villages 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.

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 assessment recommendations. He has since studied hurricane and tornado damage at disaster sites around the country.

He lauded 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.

CONTACT: Larry Tanner, research associate, Department of Civil Engineering and Wind Science and Engineering Research Center, Texas Tech University, at (806) 543-4957, or larry.tanner@ttu.edu.