Adaptation to Disaster

The effects of disaster on a structure are reduced by preparation.  One of the ways to ensure minimum safety standards for construction is through aligning building codes with anticipated hazards.  Codes influence the development of materials and assemblies to improve building performance under normal and severe climate conditions.

Miami developed the first modern building code following the Great Miami Hurricane of 1926. After the devastation from Hurricane Andrew, hurricane mitigation provisions were strengthened throughout Florida, including missile impact resistance and roof-to-wall anchoring.   The Miami-Dade standards have now been incorporated in the International Building Code for high-wind areas throughout the United States.

The US Army Corps of Engineers established Flood-Proofing Regulations in 1972 following a series of floods across many regions of the U.S., including flooding caused by Hurricane Camille in 1969.  Their provisions allow for dry floodproofing of commercial spaces, breakaway walls and flood vents, temporary flood gates, and other innovations that reduce the impact of high water on structures.

Earthquakes inspire changes to codes, too.  In California, cross-structure tie rods were used as early as 1853, but became standard after the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco.  The Loma Prieta Earthquake of 1989 led to foundation improvements, while the 1994 Northridge Earthquake refined shear frames and moment connections to keep structures intact.

After so many disasters, there is still room for improvements to codes.  After Hurricane Katrina, the six coastal counties in Mississippi finally adopted building codes.  After Hurricane Sandy, new requirements added common faucets for upper level residential structures, transfer switches for emergency generators, and allow sidewalk flood barriers.  Building codes are based on historic data, but they are the basis for new construction that will remain in use for years to come; incorporating adaptation strategies into building codes ensures that the resulting structures will be suitable for a range of uncertain futures.