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Hello, my name is Sara Marie Jackson, and I work with the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training with the Architecture and Engineering Program.  Today I’m going to be talking about preparing buildings for disasters.

disprep_katrinaIn 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast.  We are four hours from the Gulf Coast where it hit.  However, we did get involved in disaster response.  In 2005, we led a collaborative effort to develop assessment tools.  These tools are available on our web site, and we recently converted them to apps.  We have rapid assessment tools for buildings, for cemeteries, and I believe we’re developing an archaeological sites one right now.  We had staff members embedded in the FEMA Joint Field Office after Katrina.  We’ve also had them embedded after Gustav, and most recently, Sandy.  We’ve created a web-based clearinghouse for technical information on disaster recovery.

We also helped create Team Tarp, which was in response to the lack of assistance to tarp historic roofs such as asbestos and terra cota.  We’ve organized and sponsored Wet Recovery Workshops. And we provided assistance to FEMA, communities and individuals.  Natural disasters have been happening forever.  This is actually an image from 1927 of the Great Mississippi Flood.

In May there were 35 active disasters according to the FEMA web site.  This did not mean that the disaster had occurred that recently, or even that year. It just meant that there was still disaster response and recovery actively happening.  In 2012 there was $11 billion in weather and climate disasters.  This ranged from hurricanes to droughts and heat waves, wildfires, and severe weather, tornadoes.  In the 22-year period from 1980 to 2012, you can see here, depending on the shade, the number of billion-dollar disasters that happened in that state.  Texas, which is the darkest one, had 54 billion-dollar disasters in that 22-year period.

disprep_mapThis is an image of historical storms from 1971. This is just an image of the hurricanes in that year. This isn’t taking into account anything else such as blizzards or tsunamis or earthquakes.  When you’re actively facing a disaster, there are some apps that are available to help you track where the storm is happening and where it’s moving.

The State of Texas has some recommendations on their web site.  When you’re preparing for a disaster, you need to not just focus on one type of disaster such as flooding.  When you have something like a hurricane, you often have flooding, which you see here, and also the fire is from a gas line rupturing.  And you can tell, because of the flooding, there was no way for emergency response to get to the location.

So if you live in an area that might have earthquakes or has flooding also, you would want to prepare for both of those.  When you’re facing high winds, you want to protect your doors and windows.  This is an image of some hurricane shutters that have been installed in South Louisiana since Hurricane Katrina.  You also want to reinforce garage doors.  You want to look at your outside trees or other wind-borne missiles.  You want to secure the siding and roofs. It’s also good to brace gable-end roofs.

disprep_characterYou also want to take into consideration your historic character.  Be sure to document and protect that so it’s not something that you lose before, during or after the storm.  After Hurricane Katrina, you saw a lot of these details walk off the property, and you saw them again appearing in salvage yards, and in response to that, the salvage yards began to come up with rules and regulations on how they took in materials.  You also want to protect and reinforce doors and windows, garage doors.

The sandbags in this image are actually probably not doing all that much.  It’s not the most secure kind of walls to protect from water infiltration.  You want to install stronger door hardware.  Here’s some examples of hurricane straps and reinforcements.  You can tell that some of this is new construction.  However, if you have a historic building and you’re doing a more in-depth renovation or something like that, this might be something to consider.

You want to anchor the building to resist flotation.  You can see when you have groundwater or floodwaters, this changes the forces that are affecting your building.  You want to raise utility components and other equipment above flood level.

disprep_drainYou also want to ensure proper foundation drainage.  The prior image was looking at the exterior of the foundation, but this is actually looking at the interior with waterproofing and filter above the drainpipe.  You’re going to strengthen the wall against floodwaters and debris.  For wildfires, you can see here the image off of California that the smoke is actually much farther away from the fires.  You want to remove combustible materials away from the structure.  You see along the bottom left-hand side there’s plants actually close to the structure.

Now, this is actually an image from New Orleans.  The chance of there being a wildfire is relatively low, but this was just an example of some plantings near a structure.  You also want to create a safety zone depending upon surrounding tree species.  You can see here there’s a large tree next to a residence.  This isn’t a historic residence, but it’s a good example of a tree that could fall and potentially take out this whole structure.  This is actually my property, and I know that this is a danger, but I’ve decided to leave the tree there.  I like it.  It helps with shading the property.

When you have a historic structure, these are things you’re going to have to think about…

If you have a historic tree, what is the value of taking it down and what’s the value of leaving it up?  Is it an essential part of the site?  Or is it something that could be moved — it probably won’t be able to be moved if it’s a tree, but is it something that can be taken down and something put up farther away or a different species that might be stronger.

disprep_wildYou also want to remove all dead plants, shrubs and trees.  This can cause a fire hazard and work as kindling for a fire.  Select high-moisture plants that grow close to the ground.  Sometimes these recommendations — we pull information from FEMA and other sites, and you get these recommendations, but you really don’t understand how to do this.  When I was looking for some information on fire, high-moisture plants, it was kind of hard to come by, but this list is from South Carolina.  They had actually put out a list of plants that are flammable and will ignite faster and plants that have higher moisture and are fire resistant.

You could check with your USDA office if you have a local one.  They might be able to assist you in figuring out which ones are highly flammable and which ones are resistant.  As I said earlier, you want to be sensitive to historic landscape features.  On the interior you want to remove flammable materials or use fire-resistant materials near window openings.  There are other sources of information.  While you might be planning something for your historic building, a historic house museum, you can still look at the information that’s available for homeowners that might have good recommendations there.

This is an image of earthquakes that were along the coast — I think they were 5.5 or above.  Another image of some earthquakes. You can see here of the lower 48, this is talking about the seismic design categories.  So what it’s looking at is the fault lines and the areas that are going to be affected by those.  You always hear about California having earthquakes and Alaska having earthquakes, but you have fault lines in other areas such as Arkansas – they have earthquakes pretty frequently.

disprep_quakeIt wasn’t very long ago that we had the earthquake that affected D.C. and did some damage to the Washington Monument.  If you’re preparing for an earthquake, some things that you can do are bolt the sill plates in the foundation, reinforce the crawl space or cripple walls under floor joists, connect rim joists to the top plates with metal brackets.

You also can install flexible hose.  This is an image of a flexible hose on a sprinkler system, but you want to consider this for both water lines and gas lines, because if you have something like that break, you could cause a hazard for responders coming into the building or you could cause more damage to your building.

You want to brace heavy exterior elements, something that could fall during an earthquake and possibly injure somebody or cause more damage.  This is an example I was talking about earlier where you want to look at information that might not necessarily be just available for buildings, but this is for homeowners to look at and see if there are dangers in their house.  And you can see here they’re talking about bracing or replacing masonry chimneys, secure ceiling fans.  You want to secure heavy pictures and mirrors, secure heavy furniture, anything that could fall and cause additional damage or cause injury to someone.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me, and here is my contact information.

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National Center for Preservation Technology and Training
645 University Parkway
Natchitoches, LA 71457

Email: ncptt[at]
Phone: (318) 356-7444
Fax: (318) 356-9119