Volume 48, Issue 8- August 2013

Impact-Resistant Glass Plays a Key
Role in Rebuilding Joplin’s Hospital

by John Hollis

Keeping powerful winds out of any building structure is one of the most important objectives when riding out the storm—be it a hurricane or tornado. Failure to do so could often mean the difference between life or death.

“Having windows that can withstand a storm and keep out the winds is a huge deal,” says Gary Pulsipher, president of Mercy Hospital Joplin, formerly St. John’s in Joplin, Mo. “Once you get those crazy winds inside a building, they tear everything apart and send debris flying.”

It’s a bitter lesson learned all too well in Joplin. On May 22, 2011 the town was ravaged by a powerful tornado that killed 158 and wounded 1,150 others, ranking it as the deadliest tornado to hit the U.S. in more than 60 years. Cutting a swath of destruction across the city that reportedly totaled nearly $3 billion, the mile-wide tornado destroyed the town’s lone hospital, St. John’s Regional Medical Center.

The facility housed 183 patients at the time of the direct hit from the powerful EF5 tornado, resulting in the deaths of five of those patients and a visitor. Every window in the facility was blown out and the top two floors were blown off entirely.

Never again, officials vow, as they rebuild the city and prepare the new Mercy Hospital Joplin to begin servicing the city as of March 2015. Local residents are being treated at other nearby hospitals in the meantime.

Joplin’s efforts to avoid a repeat of such a calamity were not lost on officials from Moore, Okla., which was also devastated by a monster tornado on May 20, 2013. That twister killed 23 people and injured 377 others with winds estimated as high as 210 miles per hour (mph).

Moore officials have already begun speaking to their counterparts in Joplin about similar building hardening measures as they also begin the painful process of picking up the pieces in their own town, but the talks are in the very preliminary stages, according to a hospital spokesperson.

Building a New and Stronger Hospital
The new Mercy Hospital Joplin will boast a reinforced window system designed to protect patients from tornado winds as high as 250 mph. Additional measures include reinforced “safe zones” on every floor and the construction of the new hospital’s roof from rubber membranes rather than concrete.

All of the measures are intended to make sure the facility can better withstand Mother Nature’s fury and protect patients, visitors and employees in the event of another such storm.

The nearly $11 million spent by the hospital in upgrades is likely prudent, given the city’s precarious location in “Tornado Alley.”

“That was a historic storm that taught us many lessons,” says John Farnen, who is overseeing the building’s construction as executive director of strategic projects for Mercy.

But the key to avoiding a repeat of the tragedy of 2011 was the hardening of the new facility’s 149 windows, according to the Mercy officials. Des Moines, Iowa-based Architectural Walls Systems (AWS) came up with the successful design after several failed initial tries over a span of roughly six months, while Viracon fabricated the specialty glass.

Viracon officials would only confirm that the glass was evergreen-tinted with a low-E coating.

“It was a huge learning curve for everybody involved,” says Jake Drallmeier, a project engineer with McCarthy Building, the general contractor in charge of the building’s construction, “but this is definitely something the people in Joplin are going to hang their hats on. When people come to this hospital, they’re going to feel safe.”

When completed, the facility will have three different types of windows with varying ranges of wind-resistance. The most at-risk patients (those more difficult to evacuate quickly in the intensive care, pediatric intensive care and their adjacent patient rooms) will be surrounded by glass that can withstand winds as high as 250 mph.

Cycle-pressured several times, Drallmeier explains that the windows were vetted in a Minnesota warehouse by the York, Pa.-based firm of Architectural Testing Inc. Technicians shot the windows with 15-pound, 2-by-4 wooden missiles at 100 mph, duplicating how fast debris typically flies during a 250-mph tornado.

“It’s kind of hard to imagine,” says Tyler Millard, project manager for AWS. “It’s quite impressive to see something like that in person and understand what it takes to stop something like that.”

Other sections of the hospital will include lites of 140-mph-tested, laminated glass for all patient rooms and a typical laminated safety glass for others that can withstand winds as high as 90 mph.

Millard declined to go into the project’s glass specifics, citing proprietary concerns, but said AWS was extremely proud of its role in helping the Joplin medical community safely get back on its feet.

“It’s definitely something that has been an interesting process,” he says. “It’ll be nice to say when it’s all done that we played a big part. Hopefully, it will never have to come into use, but, if it does, it will perform.”

McCarthy officials expect the glass and glazing portion of the hospital’s construction to be completed by November.

Kevin Muchow, the McCarthy Building superintendent, says he sees a trend toward this technology, especially in the country’s midsection where killer tornadoes have long been a daily threat to life.

“This is cutting edge,” he says. “They have hurricane windows, but they don’t have tornado windows. They could be the difference between life and death.”

First Responders: Good Suppliers Keep Emergency Repairers Moving
Glass shops are often on the frontlines helping people after a natural disaster turns windows and storefronts to many tiny pebbles of broken tempered glass. But how do glass shops in some of the country’s most vulnerable areas, from Tornado Alley to the coastal hurricane zones, protect their wares from such disasters so that they themselves are ready for the uptick in business that’s likely to come?

There’s no secret to storing inventory, according to Danny Sullivan, owner of City Glass in Oklahoma City. He says it’s all in the supplier.

“Now [inventory] is available anytime we need it. In the old days we’d keep stuff on-hand, because we’d order things from 200 or 300 miles away, but now everything’s available here,” Sullivan says. “Maybe we got a little short of single-strength or double-strength glass [after the] last hailstorm, but we caught up quickly. We don’t have any inventory problems; everything’s restocked overnight. In this area, we’ve got some pretty good suppliers.”

Today, Sullivan’s glass shop keeps much of its available inventory in cases or stacked on modern racks within the 15,000-square-foot store.

It’s a good thing product is easy to come by, too, since City Glass is being inundated with job requests following a series of deadly tornadoes that struck the metro area in late May and early June.

“It’s been quite an exciting spring,” Sullivan says solemnly. “Work has just really started picking up on stuff that’s happened well over a month ago. They’ve been waiting for the insurance money, maybe?”

He adds, “I bet this is going to last until Christmas—the last one did. Our last bad hailstorm lasted from summer until Christmas.”

Sullivan says it’s not keeping inventory in good shape that plagues his region’s glass shops, it’s the never-ending disaster of trying to find good help. “We have too much to do and not enough qualified glaziers,” he says. “Good help is hard to come by.”

Glass USA in Broward County, Fla., also specializes in providing emergency services for other businesses, but when the emergency hits its property, there’s not much the company can do to protect its extensive stock of glass besides battening the hatches and weathering the storm.

“We don’t take any special precautions to save any of the glass,” says Scott Sorenson, owner of Glass USA. “Everything’s kept inside. We do different things like park the vans a little bit closer to the garage door so they don’t blow in and we board up our own place, things like that.”

Sorenson also feels that the best preparation for a natural disaster is to keep your suppliers close. “Most of our suppliers are local. A lot of them closed up when the recession hit, but we still have them here,” he says.

One might say the glass shop’s motto is keep your suppliers close—and cut off those competitors when they try to get even closer.

“We’re one of the glass shops that is usually heavily stocked and so some of the smaller glass shops come and use us like a mini warehouse sometimes,” Sorenson says. “They come over and try to get glass from us. The problem there is that there’s such a demand for the glass after a storm that we have to sometimes cut them off, because they use up our supply.”

For companies looking to help others weather the storm, the key seems to be finding dependable local suppliers and building lasting relationships with those companies. —Megan Headley

On the Safe Side: Safe Rooms Don’t Have to be Windowless
Impact window fabricators have had a hard road in recent years in educating the marketplace that a safe room isn’t only safe when there is no glass connecting frightened occupants to the natural disaster storming outside. Today, options do exist for tornado-rated windows, and more designers are beginning to take a serious look at incorporating safe room standards into the sunlit rooms being used on a daily basis.

“We remind designers and owners that people want to have vision to the exterior during a storm and understand what is happening [so they can] see when the ‘coast is clear,” says Kurtis Suellentrop, technical sales manager for Winco Window Co. in St. Louis, of his company’s strategy for correcting this “windowless safe room” misconception. He adds, “Being based in St. Louis, at the eastern edge of ‘Tornado Alley,’ employees at  Winco Window Co. know all too well how terrifying it is to be in a dark basement and have no reference to what is going on outside.”

According to Gerry Sagerman, business development manager for Insulgard Security Products in Brighton, Mich., more designers are asking for these tornado-rated products themselves. “We were getting a lot of calls from architects,” he says. Sagerman attributes part of this to toughened legislation bringing tornado-ratings to the forefront of people’s minds. For example, “In Alabama they’ve passed legislation that every new school or any addition to a school has to have a safe room in it. I think the architects are looking at this and saying ‘I don’t want to build a vault that they use once or twice a year.’”

He attributes other calls to the ever increasing exposure designers are getting to safe, window-filled facilities.

“It’s funny,” he says, “but the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) puts out a training session on how to build safe rooms; they talk about the roof structure, they talk about the walls and what they need to do to meet FEMA requirements to make sure that building is still standing should a tornado come. One of the last slides in their presentation is a picture of a beautiful building with these windows and the [instructors] ask, ‘Where do you think the safe room in this building is?’ People look at it and guess the basement or the interior corridor. And [the instructor] explains, ‘No, it’s the whole building.’” Suddenly, the light bulb goes on that tornado safe rooms can have natural daylighting.

The project featured in that FEMA presentation, the Robert J. Curry Public Safety Center in Gulfport, Miss., was one of Insulgard’s first efforts to incorporate windows into a safe room facility. “It’s the sheriff’s department, the courthouse and everything,” Sagerman says, describing the emergency response facility. The original building was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, and the resulting new center fully meets requirements for a safe room, able to withstand both hurricanes and tornados. “If a tornado hits, that’s where they would do all of their emergency response from,” Sagerman says. “After a tornado or a hurricane, they have to be up and running. All of the computers have to be up and running, have power, etc.” According to Sagerman, it is here with emergency response buildings that tornado-rated projects really began three to four years ago.

Winco, too, has fabricated tornado-rated products for shelters throughout the country. “Many of them are ‘shelter-in-place’ facilities that can withstand anything that Mother Nature can throw at them while comfortably housing first responders, vehicles and rations for several days,” Suellentrop says. He offers another example: “The Pinellas County Public Works Emergency Center in Florida is a beautiful, energy-efficient, LEED-rated facility that can sustain three shifts of 50 people for up to seven days without outside supplies.”

Since the early construction of these super-strong emergency facilities, however, the interest in window-filled, tornado-rated safe rooms has spread, touching on schools and hospitals in particular. Sagerman is working with a hospital in Alabama to harden the glass in critical care areas. “If someone’s hooked up to all of these different machines—and you literally have three to five minutes before that tornado hits—trying to get all of those critical care patients [to a safe room] is really impossible. So they’re looking at securing some of the critical care areas so those areas can be the safe rooms where you can bring more mobile patients, as opposed to having to move those critical patients somewhere else.”

He adds, “Now we’re seeing more with the schools where they want to make a gymnasium or a classroom where they want to let natural light into it, but they also want to be able to use it for a shelter.”

Further exposure for these products likely will come with the release of the updated ICC 500, Standard for the Design and Construction of Storm Shelters. Updates to the 2105 edition of the standard currently are underway. Sullentrop reports that more designers already are incorporating into their tornado-rated designs the relatively recently released guidelines from the American Architectural Manufacturers Association. “Historically, we have seen specifications referencing FEMA 361 Design and Construction Guidance for Community Safe Rooms and FEMA 320 Taking Shelter From the Storm: Building a Safe Room For Your Home or Small Business.  However, we have most recently seen projects specifying AAMA 512-11 Voluntary Specifications for Tornado Hazard Mitigating Fenestration Products, which pulls from several other test standards utilizing an impact 15-pound missile launched at 100 miles per hour,” he says.

As standards evolve, projects are completed and tornados continue to wreak havoc, more designers will come to realize that they have a number of options in incorporating the benefits of natural daylight into the most secure spaces. “You don’t want to have a large building where everybody works every day of the year and can have no window,” Sagerman points out. “It just doesn’t make a lot of sense.” —Megan Headley


© Copyright 2013 Key Communications Inc. All rights reserved.
No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.