Internet Abuzz About Home Safety In Hurricanes

Just as Hurricane Frances began to whip the storm-torn state of Florida - and only two weeks after Hurricane Charley ripped through - Internet chat rooms and discussion threads were buzzing with fear and dread.

Posting on  as Trillium Lili, a Florida resdient wrote, "All I can say is that it is very hard to leave my house, not knowing if it will even be there when I get back. Not many non-concrete buildings can withstand 145 mph winds. So I guess that chances are good this is the last post I will be making for a while. Just hope everyone gets through it safely."

Indeed, many homes are at a distinct disadvantage in high winds as a result of the construction materials and methods used.

One of the greatest inherent dangers to people and property during the high winds of hurricanes is flying debris. Items from disintegrating structures and yard debris can be carried at such intense velocity that they become "missiles" that can easily pierce the outside walls of a home. Texas Tech University's Wind Engineering Research Center has proven that concrete masonry walls can withstand flying debris from hurricanes and tornadoes and outperform their wood- and steel-stud counterparts.

In a test conducted in 2003, laboratory researchers hit wall sections with 15-pound 2-by-4 lumber missiles at up to 100 mph to duplicate tornado-like conditions. These "missiles" simulate debris carried in a 250-mph wind.

Reinforced solid concrete masonry walls had no problem with the test, causing the wood missiles to splinter on impact. Typically, the requirement in Florida for hurricane shelters is a 9-pound 2-by- 4 lumber missile traveling at 34 mph. Standard 8-inch hollow concrete masonry successfully met this criterion in similar tests at the University of Florida.

In comparison, conventional light-gauge steel- and wood-stud walls with wood and gypsum sheathing offer little or no resistance to the missile in these tests. The testing procedures used were established by the Federal Emergency Management Agency for tornado shelters and the Southern Building Code Congress for hurricane shelters.

While evacuations may be the most prudent approach for safety in the shadow of an approaching hurricane, industry experts say concrete masonry homes provide better protection than most other wall systems.

"Concrete masonry walls meet both criteria for protecting occupants in a severe storm-structural integrity and missile shielding ability," said Dennis Graber, staff engineer with the National Concrete Masonry Association.

Graber and other industry experts were in Florida following Hurricane Charley for damage assessment and found that modern designed masonry structures performed very well. Comments like, "Thank goodness we have a concrete masonry home" were frequently heard while visiting storm-ravaged sites.

Internet Abuzz About Home Safety In Hurricanes