Missouri View: Severe weather should prompt new building codes

Most local governments in Missouri and neighboring states require that buildings be strong enough to withstand winds of 90 miles per hour. But the wreckage of Joplin is a horrifying reminder that winds do not conform to codes.

Toughening standards is a difficult discussion, especially in this economy. But Missouri should have that discussion. Officials in particular should study whether “tilt-up wall” construction should be banned in new buildings.

A detailed report recently published in The Kansas City Star made a convincing case that the catastrophic collapse of the Home Depot in Joplin was exacerbated by the widespread building method.

Seven persons inside the big box store died when the roof flew off and a 100,000-pound concrete panel fell on them. At least 28 persons in the building were spared because another wall toppled outward instead of inward.

Experts questioned whether tilt-up construction, which features concrete slab walls held upright by connections to a lightweight roof system, is sufficient against high winds. At least two other big box buildings in close proximity to the Home Depot in Joplin sustained less damage and reported fewer fatalities. Neither used the tilt-up method.

Missouri has no statewide building code. Every city sets its own standards, with most using the International Building Code as a model. The Joplin Home Depot met local building codes.

Just as deadly hurricanes prompted Florida to enact a tough statewide code, this season of mayhem should prompt consideration of uniform measures in Missouri and other tornado-prone states.

Items that should be frontand-center include either limiting tilt-up construction, or reinforcing the wall-to-roof connections. And regardless of where those discussions lead, all big box buildings should be required to construct hardened storm shelters inside their structures.

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