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Our Houses Are Not Ready…Will Our Children’s Homes Be Stronger?

04/22/2009

As a resident of South Florida, each year I wonderare we ready?

Is our housing stock prepared for a Category 4 or 5 hurricane that has the immense and unrelenting destructive power that can literally smash entire municipalities on the scale of Katrina…or worse?

The answer, of course, is a resounding NO. Only a relatively few homes across cyclonic-prone areas can withstand such fury. The challenges, and opportunities, for new building technologies are immense.

It’s obvious. One of the problems we must avert, with all deliberate speed, is inadequate residential architecture which is incapable of dealing with sustained winds above 100 miles per hour. No matter what modern building codes are in effect, this question is worthy of constant and urgent study, as architects and engineers develop new building and design strategies to “harden” our homes. 

Many questions persist about this issue, but not just in the aftermath of Katrina. As I toured Florida City in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew in 1992, I witnessed crumbled brick buildings, a steel frame warehouse which once stood proud bent like a collection of weak and feeble straws, and houses smashed as if King Kong had rummaged through the small city in a furious fit. Since then, building codes have been reviewed and upgraded, but research continues. The video which appears above shows an international effort, spear headed by the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), to create a stronger, more resistant, “Hurricane House.”

Are we ready? Not by a long run. Can we get there? With more research like NJIT’s, perhaps so. It will take decades for the housing stock to collectively be strong enough to successfully avert the widespread damage of an Andrew…but we owe it to our children, and theirs, to get on with the business of designing and building stronger, smarter, homes.  With the “Green” revolution and the effort to create “sustainable” places to live, we must not be blind to the need to also create hurricane resistant structures. At the same time as we try to reduce the carbon footprint of homes, we can, and must, integrate hardening concepts into 21st century communities.

If you are an architect or engineer, tell us if you have been involved in the science of hurricane fortification, and the challenges of making our homes tough enough for future generations. Speak out on what your professions are doing to attack this problem and embrace the opportunities it presents.

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