Volume 50, Issue 7 - July 2015


Katrina’s Silver Lining: Stronger Codes and Increased Use of Impact Glass

When Hurricane Katrina hit on August 29, 2005, the devastating loss of life and damage it brought to the Gulf Coast generated more than tragic headlines. It was also a call to action.

Michael Wich, president for the Building Officials Association of Louisiana and Certified Building Official for the South Central Regional Construction Code Council, says there were no mandatory statewide building codes in Louisiana prior to the storm. The state learned its lesson—and luckily, it didn’t take it ten years to do so.

“By 2007 we had a whole suite of codes for both residential and commercial structures, and they continue to be updated,” says Wich. “There is a lot more enforcement now than there ever was before Katrina.”

The storm also caused the glass industry to wake up and pay more attention to design pressure (DP), which led to greater utilization of impact glass.

“I don’t think anyone was paying attention to design pressure of glass or impact glass or shutters,” says Wich. “There is a big emphasis now that all windows [in these areas] are impact- rated. We have seen more of a movement toward impact-resistant glass [though it is not mandatory if shutters are an option]. Economically, both the industry and consumers are seeing that this is a viable option.”

But the road to rebuilding and learning these lessons wasn’t easy. In fact, for years following the storm, construction was somewhat stagnant.

“After Katrina we saw a long lull—people were just taking stock,” says Steve Dawson, vice president and general manager, CGI Windows and Doors in Miami. “Four to five years later is where the commercial establishments decided to do upgrades. We helped rebuild entire areas.”

But the rebuilding isn’t done yet, as some building owners and homeowners question whether or not they even want to start over.

“Some ask, ‘Why should we if it is going to happen again?’” says Dawson.

It wasn’t just the state codes that changed. Wich says after Katrina the wind maps in the International Residential Code got pretty aggressive—maybe too aggressive.

“We have seen that toned back a bit over the years as they may have overestimated some of those wind speeds in an overabundance of caution,” he says.

Though nothing on the same scale as Katrina, recent storms have shown that the new codes are working. Take Hurricane Gustav in 2008.

“If you rode around that parish [hit by Gustav], you could immediately tell which homes were built before and after Katrina,” says Wich. “There was no damage to those homes built after Katrina. The ones prior to Katrina suffered some significant damage.”

He says structures built prior to Katrina were constructed the same way they were 20-30 years ago.

“That’s just the way it was,” says Wich. “We weren’t keeping up with recent developments. But I think you saw a bigger impact in commercial buildings. Prior to Katrina, the only thing we enforced were life safety codes. There were a significant amount of buildings that sustained damage that probably wouldn’t have if the codes were in place.”

While it was a hard lesson to learn, Wich says Louisiana “got the job done and they did it at a faster pace than just about anyone.”

—Tara Taffera

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