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Structural Integrity

Investigators Examine Masonry Affected by Hurricane Katrina in Gulf States
Photo Courtesy of NASA/Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Land Rapid Response Team

A team of investigators from The Masonry Society (TMS) arrived in the Gulf States area on Sept. 2 to investigate the effects of Hurricane Katrina on masonry structures. The four-person team included trained volunteers from the engineering, construction, materials and forensic communities. They focused on the ability of modern building codes and recommended construction practices to protect structures and their inhabitants from severe events such as hurricanes. The investigation team converged from different parts of the United States into Mobile, Ala., and worked westward across the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, through the hurricane-ravaged areas of Pascagoula, Biloxi, Long Beach and Gulfport, and into parts of Louisiana.

Terence A. Weigel, Ph.D. from the University of Louisville, led the team. "When catastrophic events like hurricanes damage structures," Weigel says, "it is important to conduct an investigation as quickly as possible before clean-up efforts are begun to collect forensic data and determine how well the structures performed. Quick-response field studies conducted following major disasters are vital to identify knowledge gaps where further research and building code revisions are most needed. Such investigations also offer opportunities to make recommendations regarding mitigation measures, disaster preparedness and emergency responses for better preparing communities for future disasters."

Other team members who joined Weigel included Jason Thompson of the National Concrete Masonry Association (NCMA), Benchmark Harris of the Isbell Engineering Group, Inc., and John Bufford of ACME Brick Company. The team was assisted on-site by representatives of Block USA including Kevin Vogler, Lee McClinton and Sean McClinton, who provided information about the area and structures.

The team conducted investigations through Sept. 5, focusing primarily on the Alabama and Mississippi coasts. Findings and experiences are being shared with other professional engineering organizations conducting similar structural investigations.

"There is a vast improvement over structures built in the past 10 years," says Thompson. "Investigations such as these have given us the chance to observe the protection provided by newer code provisions and building practices and give us insight into additional changes needed to protect occupants and property."

In general, the performance of modern masonry buildings seemed to be favorable, and little damage to properly designed and constructed masonry buildings was observed. Those modern masonry structures that were severely damaged by Hurricane Katrina often showed major construction defects or construction that did not meet code requirements, thus highlighting the need for continued focus on construction quality through education and inspection. Investigators also observed examples of beachfront masonry homes left standing while other adjacent homes were washed away by Katrina's severe storm surge, which seems to attest to the strength and durability of properly constructed masonry. However, in other cases, the storm surge wiped out all structures in its path.

TMS, working together with the Council for Masonry Research (CMR), sponsored the investigation of structures in Hurricane Katrina's path. TMS coordinator for the Investigating Disasters Program Art Schultz (University of Minnesota) and TMS President Max Porter (University of Iowa) requested that authorities in the Gulf Coast region grant the team access to disaster areas and share information with the team members.

According to Schultz, "These scientific investigations are part of a comprehensive disaster hazard-reduction effort underway in this country, and cooperation from local officials enhances the team's effectiveness in carrying out its critical task." Schultz indicated that a report of findings is expected to be available from TMS in the near future.

Additional details and analysis of the team's findings will be provided by TMS in the coming months. With considerable help from the National Concrete Masonry Association, TMS will be posting an image library of some of the photographs that the team members took during their investigation, which is available at www.masonrysociety.org/html/committees/tech/disaster. This library will also be shared with other organizations that are considering sending teams to boost collective efforts and information.



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