Western’s Storm Damage Assessment team on the ground in tornado struck Ontario town

0 June 18, 2014 at 1:51 pm by

At this is being written, Western’s University’s Storm Damage Assessment Team is on the ground in Angus, Ontario working with Environment Canada (EC) to rate a tornado that ripped through town at about 5:20 p.m. on June 17. The team made its way to the small town of about 9,000 located southwest of Barrie, using a van provided by the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction to do site assessments after severe storm events. After completing its official duties with EC, the team will work to document the storm’s path, record damage to structures, and catalogue the various types of failures it sees.

The storm was given a preliminary rating of EF2 by EC a few hours after it occurred, but the team will work with EC to confirm whether that rating is accurate and attempt to determine whether it was a high or low-end EF2 as wind speeds could have varied at anywhere between 178 and 217 kilometres per hour.

Angus is not the first time the team has jumped into action. The first storm assessed by the group of wind engineers was in Mitchell, or Bornham, Ontario in May 2007 when a weak F0 damaged at least one home there. The team also analyzed storms in Vaughan, Ontario after two F2s set down in Woodbridge and Maple in August 2009, and in Goderich, Ontario after the F3 in August 2011. One member of the team even ventured to Elie, Manitoba in June 2007 after Canada’s first documented F5 caused much damage there.

The work is important, as the ultimate goal of these damage assessments is to improve building code and construction methods for new homes in Canada and make both the building and insurance industries aware of common errors found in the construction of new homes in the country. There may be a belief, even a myth or urban legend, that new homes do not get damaged by extreme weather in Canada, and the team works diligently to ensure that such falsehoods are proven wrong and put to bed.

The assessment team in Vaughan, Ont. in August 2009.

The assessment team in Vaughan, Ont. in August 2009. They were there within hours of the storm.

Much of the team’s work centres around roof to wall connections. There is a belief in certain circles that making walls stronger – particularly by double-bricking them, as was commonly done in the 1950s – will make for a more tornado resilient home. However extensive research conducted at Western’s Boundary Layer Wind Tunnel (BLWT) and Insurance Research Lab for Better Homes (IRLBH) plus findings observed in the field from the events mentioned above indicate that resilience to tornadoes rests with how the roof is connected to the walls of the home.

Essentially if you keep the roof on, you stand a much better chance of keeping the walls up. This translates to a much better chance of survival of the structure, drastically reduces the chances of people being injured or killed by collapsing walls and other debris, and reduces water ingress that could lead to further property damage  and mould growth. An eyewitness account of the damage seen in Vaughan and critical findings of the team were laid out in an October 2009 Canadian Underwriter article written by team leader Dr. Greg Kopp.

ICLR’s building code work

ICLR strongly believes that building codes serve as one of the most important mechanisms for incorporating risk reduction measures into new homes. The Institute has recently launched a program to consult with builders and building code officials seeking to influence the design and construction of new homes to reduce the risk of wind and water damage. This includes a research program to identify best practices, and active communications to inform stakeholders.

This work has included making actual submissions to building code committees to change building codes.

In 2010, research by the ICLR at Western University and a submission by the Institute, with letters of support from Insurance Bureau of Canada and several member insurers, were successful in changing the Ontario code. The industry proposed three changes, and one was accepted. The successful submission, which was added to section, was to increase the number of nails in plywood roof sheathing on new homes, from the old 6×12 pattern to a 6×6 pattern.

In the past year or two, work has been underway at ICLR on several proposals that have been made to the National Building Code of Canada. But a big challenge has been to collect data on water and wind-related losses, in particular roof sheathing failure, in order to be able to backup our code submissions. While there are some sources of storm loss and claims data that are available, such as Public Safety Canada’s Canadian Disaster Database, PCS Canada and CGI, the data are often too broad and lack specificity. An additional challenge is presented by the fact that  100 insurance carriers code their losses 100 different ways making aggregation a challenge.

ICLR would welcome specific water and wind-related loss data including costs associated with such losses, costs associated with repairs, specific lists of the building materials purchased to make repairs (which would give us insight into the types of failures that occur) and anecdotes (including photographs) of some of the more common types of damage experienced – particularly with regard to roof sheathing. Both broad annual data and event-specific data would be welcome.

ICLR is attempting to reduce injuries, loss of life and property damage caused by extreme events, but  in order to succeed we need the cooperation of insurance carriers, independent claims adjusters, disaster recovery companies and others to gather the hard data and evidence (including photos) we need to be able to show building code officials that specific types of losses are indeed occurring.

We need your help.

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