"Modern building codes are not what we would call inadequate, but they are kind of a bare minimum," said Rakesh Gupta, a professor of wood engineering and mechanics at Oregon State University, and one of the members of the NSF team that traveled to such sites as Tuscaloosa, Ala., and Joplin, Mo. -- where a massive EF5 tornado in May killed more than 150 people and caused damage approaching $3 billion.
"Beyond that, in the actual construction process, buildings are often not built precisely to codes, due to inadequate construction work or code enforcement," he said. "We can do better. The damage didn't have to be as bad as it was. We can design and build structures more rigorously that could withstand wind forces up to 140-150 miles per hour, which would help them better resist both tornadoes and hurricanes." ...Among the findings of the new report:
- It's not possible to economically design wood-frame structures that could resist damage from the highest winds in extreme tornado events, such as EF4 or EF5, but irreparable damage from lesser winds could and should be reduced.
- Tornadoes and hurricanes apply different types of forces to buildings, and what will adequately protect from one type of storm event isn't identical to the other. Implementing hurricane-region construction practices in a tornado-prone region is a good start, but not an end solution.
- Vertical uplift, one of the special risks from tornadoes, is often not planned for in traditional construction approaches.
- Interior closets and bathrooms can provide some protection at lower wind speeds, but more consideration should be given to construction of "safe rooms" that can save lives in major events.