Wichita Falls Minimum Building Code Requirements Not Enough to Stand Up to Strong Tornadoes

Moore Oklahoma was in the national spotlight last May after
an EF-5 tornado tore through the city.

Nearly three years ago, it was Joplin, Missouri that endured
the force of a mile wide EF-5 tornado.

Both of these tornadoes sparked debate on whether or not
stricter building codes would have led to less damage and perhaps
saved lives.

A two-year study on the Joplin tornado released last November by
the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) found that
of the 161 fatalities, 135 of them were related to building failure. 74 of
those deaths were in residential buildings.

So what about homes in Texoma.

Bobby Teague, Wichita Falls Community Development and Building Officer, says,
"The city of Wichita Falls has adopted the 2009 International Residential Code
among others in the International Code family. We are required to meet a 90 mph
wind load rating in Wichita Falls."

Bobby Teague says in many cases, homes are constructed to exceed these
minimum requirements. But, when it comes to strong tornadoes, often times
the minimum requirements are not enough.

One of the findings in the NIST study in Joplin was that many homes did not
withstand the tornado because the methods used to connect the foundation,
walls, and roof were inadequate.

However, with disasters in Wichita Falls like the '79 "Terrible Tuesday" tornado,
when homes are constructed here, these connections are taken into account.

An important part of the building code for homes in Wichita Falls is that it must be
constructed with what engineers call a continuous load path.

Basically it's a method of building your home by tying the foundation to the roof.

Teague says, “One of the good examples that we have of how the structures are
tied together is there on the very base of the foundation we have the base stud
and then we have a bolt. And that anchor bolt is through the concrete and makes
an "L" at the bottom. So it's tied into there very well. And then at the top of the wall.
We'll see a hurricane clip, a little metal piece that is tied into the rafter. It ties that to
the top plate of your frame. That ties the whole structure down to the foundation.

A lot of attention is also placed on the exterior of homes.

Teague says, "Our sheathing which is on the outside of the house is required actually
every 25 feet here and on the corners. However, the majority of our builders here in town
solid sheath the outside."

However, when it comes to tornado safety, the best place to be is in an above ground safe
room or underground storm shelter which are not requirements in the Wichita Falls residential
building code.

Click here for the complete NIST Joplin Tornado Study.

Eric Jeansonne KFDX 3 News

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