Tue | Oct 4, 2022

Make building standards storm-proof

Published:Friday | September 8, 2017 | 12:00 AM


Even while the surprise and realities that accompanied the American withdrawal from the Paris Agreement are soaking in, tropical weather systems that respond violently to climate change threaten to reduce the Caribbean and the southern to south-eastern USA into the worst disaster zones of our modern history. Even Kentucky in the heart of the North American continent may not be spared.

Suddenly, the current narrative reflects realities that climate change is real, and we may be facing yet a few more of these climatic events per year. Now we are realising that unless we change building standards, including the Unified Building Code, we will be rebuilding our homes and infrastructure yearly. Indeed, even after billions have been pumped into recovery efforts, new realities beg for enforced, instead of voluntary, change for existing structures.


Design within resources


Now we will understand that construction in vulnerable zones will need to be redesigned from reinforced concrete not timber. And coastal designs should pattern the philosophy of the Netherlands, who accept that the mighty rising sea has to be kept out with levees and other barrier structures.

To a smaller scale, but no less ruinous to Jamaica's meagre resources, low-lying areas will need to be redesigned to feature seawalls, levees, pumping stations, and higher coastal roadways a costly reality.

Fifty years ago, wind forces were based on 80mph wind. Glazing and minor structures were designed based on estimated forces then, and those windows and frontages exist and continue to be built today. But Irma maintained 185mph winds with gusts of above 225mph.

Every year of the last decade has been hotter, dryer, wetter, windier, and the extremes continue.

So now, we are not as wealthy as we thought. The beautiful timber homes up north and the beautiful roofs of our Jamaican hillside residences will require reinspection and rebuilding, not to save properties, but to save lives. Indeed, we have been humbled by Harvey, Irma, JosÈ and Katia.