WGI Engineers Offer Tips for Protecting Buildings From Hurricanes and Other Extreme Weather

We are in the midst of a record-breaking hurricane season that has already seen 17 tropical storms, five of which have become hurricanes that have caused nearly $20 billion in damage and over 100 deaths. And now, for just the second time in history, there are five tropical cyclones simultaneously in the Atlantic racing towards the United States and threatening to become hurricanes. In the face of these increasingly deadly and destructive storms, the engineers at WGI Inc. are offering tips on how to protect buildings and other valuable assets.

“Hurricanes and other extreme weather events have always been a fact of life for coastal communities, and with climate change, they are becoming increasingly frequent and destructive,” said Jeffrey Bergmann, Director of Specialty Structures with the engineering firm, WGI, Inc. “Every city and town, and every commercial and business development, should have a storm hardening plan to protect buildings and other key assets. The cost of not taking action is high, and constantly rising.”

Storm hardening is a process of developing or improving infrastructure capable of withstanding extreme weather events. The concept behind storm hardening is to physically change the infrastructure or building to make it less susceptible to damage from extreme wind, flooding, or flying debris. Storm hardening strategies can be implemented as part of a retrofit or as an element of new building design.

“There are two primary categories of storm hardening, gray mitigation strategies and green mitigation strategies,” said Bergmann. “Gray strategies revolve around manufactured physical barriers and green strategies revolve around using natural landscape strategies to mitigate flooding and wind damage.”

Gray Mitigation Strategies

Traditionally, the most important gray mitigation strategy has been the development of seawalls. However, individual buildings can also be hardened. The most common approaches include reinforcing existing concrete masonry walls or building masonry or concrete walls outside existing walls. Deployable barriers can also be used to prevent flooding when deployed prior to a storm. Traditional hurricane shutters and steel roll-down doors can prevent missile breaches from flying debris, and when shutters aren’t available, plywood at least ¾” thick can be placed over windows.

Green Mitigation Strategies

The most common green strategies include the development of mangrove barriers on waterfront property to provide wind barriers and hilly parks to prevent flooding in susceptible areas. The parks are built to higher elevations than surrounding buildings and infrastructure and are designed to prevent flood waters from spreading. A final, essential green strategy is to remove at-risk trees that are within reach of the property, since the primary cause of hurricane building damage is flying debris breaching building envelopes.

“Some of these strategies require careful design and planning, while others can be managed swiftly and easily,” said Bergmann. “Ultimately, a hardening plan that combines gray and green mitigation strategies can protect buildings and other properties, as well as the people inside them.”

About WGI

Founded in 1972, WGI is an award-winning national design and professional services firm leading in technology-based solutions for the construction of public infrastructure and real estate development. With 18 offices throughout the United States, the firm is a leading provider of civil engineering services, electrical engineering, environmental consulting, geospatial and land surveying, planning, landscape architecture, MEP engineering services, new mobility, parking solutions, restoration engineering, structuring engineering, subsurface utility engineering, transportation engineering, water resources, architecture, and project delivery. WGI can be found online at wginc.com.