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June 2011: For The Record

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For The Record

Aesthetics, sustainability and a long life cycle. One would think these attributes alone would convince even the most stubborn gallery of naysayers that masonry is the way to go when you construct a building. Still, members of the MCAA found themselves in front of Congressmen during the Legislative Conference in May, explaining the importance of the MilCon bill and the benefits of using masonry in military structures.

But you also can add this incredibly important reason for building with masonry to your arsenal: safety.

On my drive home today, I was listening to NPR’s coverage of the latest tornado damage in Missouri. Being from the South and having witnessed tornado damage my entire life, I always pay special attention when tornadoes rear their heads. My grandparents’ home in Camilla, Ga., was affected by a tornado when I was a small child. And, of course, Alabama, Georgia and other parts of the Southeast recently were flattened and destroyed by a historically large tornado. University of Alabama students who had planned to accept their diplomas during a ceremony in June were asked to wait until August, so that the city and campus could begin some type of order and cleanup.

The argument for the safety benefits of building with masonry was one of the points of this afternoon’s All Things Considered on NRP, hosted by Robert Siegel. The question of whether a home, school, hospital and office building could be built to be tornado-proof was posed to John W. van de Lindt, a civil engineering professor at the University of Alabama (Tuscaloosa), who has studied extensively the effects of tornadoes on structures. He even is an advisor to FEMA on the topic.

van de Lindt said that, while no building could be tornado-proof per se, one could be tornado resistant. The damage from a tornado could be mitigated. Referring to the damage in Tuscaloosa, Ala., he said it was apparent that structures bolted to a foundation with metal hardware extending all the way up and connecting to the roof (continuous load path) fared better. But the most powerful tornadoes, with winds up to 200 mph, will rip off almost any wooden home’s roof. Once that happens, “the building is no longer stable and it blows the walls down.”

The best case scenario, he said, for a safe building would be one constructed of reinforced concrete, steel or masonry reinforced block, and a reinforced concrete roof could be held in place in the face of a 200-mph tornado. van de Lindt said that reinforced concrete most likely would not be knocked down, and, generally, strong winds wouldn’t blow reinforced concrete apart. Such is not the case with metal or wood.

The cover of my Sports Illustrated last week featured a University of Alabama student surveying the immense damage wreaked by the storm a few weeks ago. I noticed lots of and lots of wood. Wooden beams popped in half, splintered and shredded – everywhere.

Would the use of more masonry have made a difference? Sure it would have. And, while masonry may not be the appropriate material to use for every single structure out there, it certainly works for many. Many that might still be standing today.

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