Volume 43, Issue 10 - October 2008

Issue @ Hand

Lessons from Alicia
Some of our readers watched the television coverage of Hurricane Ike last month; others lived through it and will likely be dealing with its effects for months and years. The city of Galveston has been forever changed and time there will be divided into “before Ike” and “after Ike” for the next few generations to come. Unless you’ve lived through a hurricane, you can’t realize how inadequate television is at conveying the real horror and the legacy of destruction it leaves.

Those in our industry have an added burden. We watch the coverage with just a little more sickness to the stomach and ache about the temples than others might have. We, as an industry, have had to stand up to Ike. He came to town looking for a fight. The results are in and, sadly, it wasn’t even close. Broken glass is now everywhere and anywhere. Photos of downtown Houston buildings with nearly total glass breakage are abound. People are spending entire days just cleaning up broken glass around buildings.

I was barely a college graduate, covering the event as a newly minted reporter, when Hurricane Alicia hit Galveston and downtown Houston in August 1983. Alicia came ashore as a category three hurricane and followed much the same path as Ike did. Alicia was the first “billion dollar” storm ever to hit Texas, causing $2.6 billion USD ($5.27 billion 2006 USD) in damage and killing 21 people. Ike killed 23 people but caused far, far more damage.

Ask anyone in this industry what they remember about Alicia and you’ll think they are talking about Ike. Their memories are full of broken glass. Downtown Houston looked like someone had taken an assault rifle and shot out every window. The country pointed its collective finger at our industry and blamed the glass, which came under attack as an undesirable building product.

Commissions were formed, studies were done and research was collected. A very curious thing happened. Knowledgeable consultants and scientists found out that Alicia, in all her rage, had not broken much glass. Rather, she had churned up winds that blew a lot of gravel and debris from nearby roofs and sent them hurling into glass facades. That gravel and debris broke the glass. The broken glass also allowed the contents of the building to become airborne leading, to more debris that broke more windows.

All building codes in Texas became stricter and tighter hurricane codes were put in place. That’s part of why I was so queasy when I saw all of the glass breakage. Though the city of Houston had vowed “never again,” Ike had other ideas.

Our hearts, thoughts and prayers go out to those who are dealing with Ike’s unwelcome advances. There will be time enough for the experts to review the storm, its effects and why so much glass broke. But, as was the case with Hurricane Alicia, we should wait for the studies to be completed and not allow glass to take the rap. There need be no rush to judgement.

It is not without irony that this issue includes our list of the “Most Influential People in the Glass and Metal Industry.” Editor Megan Headley has spent the last three months painstakingly researching individuals for possible inclusion on the list. She did an outstanding job. And I would guess that any number of those included will be dealing with and working on the after effects of Hurricane Ike in the years ahead.


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