Recent Tornadoes Cause Glass Industry to Rethink Building Practices
August 16, 2011

By Tara Taffera, ttaffera@glass.com

Dr. Ernst Kiesling, professor of civil engineering at Texas Tech University, in the testing lab where testing is conducted on a variety of building materials.

St. John's Hospital suffered severe devastation following the EF5 tornado that hit Joplin, Mo., in May. Media reports showed image after image of how the building construction failed, including much of the glass. The good news is that researchers at Texas Tech University believe hospitals, including St. Johns, will rebuild differently.

"People are calling me who are currently building hospitals and they want advice," says Dr. Ernst Kiesling, professor of civil engineering at Texas Tech University. The same holds true for nursing homes and schools.

"Thanks to the media there is awareness and those building these types of structures will rebuild differently," Kiesling adds.

Says Larry Tanner, research associate at Texas Tech's Wind Science & Engineering Research Center: "Building owners are looking for alternatives and opportunities are emerging. I am aware of a few glass producers who think their products will meet tornado criteria. These are encouraging signs."

Architects designing hospitals are keenly aware of the potential for hazard mitigation and says this is a positive sign for the rebuilding effort, Tanner says.

Larry Tanner, research associate at Texas Tech University's Wind Science & Engineering Research Center, prepares for testing of a storm shelter panel - the test simulates tornado conditions.

"If you design an improved building that will continue your firm down that track, though the client does have the last word," Tanner says. He traveled to Joplin as part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Mitigation Assessment Team (MAT), and saw some of the damage to St. John's up close.

"That building lost so much glazing," Tanner says. "Many of the newer hospitals being built today have lots of glass."

So, what can be done differently to prevent less damage? Tanner says that laminated glass would improve upon structures but, "Using laminated glass on those structures would be very expensive."

USGNN.com™ also asked Tanner about the possible benefits of window film, and although he hasn't tested these products he says, "If window films can perform to accelerated levels then that is something worth looking into."

If some buildings in Joplin were designed differently there could have been different results.

"If you could have maintained 50 to 60 percent of that the glazing and protected the generators then that hospital may not have been taken offline the way it was," Tanner says.

For more on this story, look for the September issue of USGlass.

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