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Preparing for the Worst

by John Pierson, PE
Creating and managing a plan for rapid response to your roofing needs after a natural disaster can be difficult. This article will help you minimize the stress and delays related to post-disaster repair and reconstruction.

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Design and Maintenance can make all the Difference photo

A total roof blow-off is every facility manager's worst nightmare. Whether the destroyer is a Midwestern tornado or a Gulf Coast hurricane, older, out-of-code facilities will be the first victims. Although, as we recently saw in Joplin, MO, some disasters are equal-opportunity destroyers. Today's code provides guidance for most wind storm scenarios leaving it up to the designer to determine the life safety role of the structure.

Nevertheless, avoidance of a blow-off is not the equivalent of a trouble-free ride. Direct impact of 150 mph+ winds will damage anything short of a FEMA 361/ICC500 storm shelter. And although not impossible, resisting damage from the kinds of severe hail that pelleted several Midwestern and Southwestern states during the 2011 spring storm season, presents a Herculean challenge for most roofing materials. In short, even if you and your architect have done everything right, sometimes everything will still go wrong.

Before we talk about how to prepare for what can go wrong, let's identify some important considerations for roof systems.

Designing Protection photos

Designing Protection

When it comes to roofing, thicker and stronger is better, but so are the details of how water is kept out.

Factory Mutual Global1 and Underwriters Laboratories Inc.2 are two of the most well known entities that have independently established wind uplift and other performance standards for commercial roofing, upon which most building code requirements are based. However, there are other test standards (TAS, ASTM, AAMA) that go above and beyond building code requirements, which may be specified depending on your safety requirements.

There is a great deal of information to understand that goes well beyond the scope of this article so be sure to consult with a qualified roofing professional to identify roofing standards and code requirements that apply to your facilities.

1Factory Mutual (FM®) is a registered trademark of Factory Mutual Global.

2Underwriters Laboratories (UL®) is a registered trademark of Underwriters Laboratories Inc.

Setting Realistic Expectations photo

Setting Realistic Expectations

Prior to storm season, a committed roofing partner can help you set in place a disaster response plan so that the storm’s impact can be minimized, in the event of roof damage. Having a plan in place, with contractors ready to respond, is the best way to minimize the impact of storm damage on a facility.

The challenge is securing the services of a dependable contractor after a storm when everyone around you is similarly worried about their roofs. Contracting for disaster response services before you ever need them is the best way to ensure help will be available when you do.

Minimizing Stress and Delays photo

Minimizing Stress and Delays

Results of studies on the roofing damages during the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons show that 95 percent of all roofs designed according to building code received no significant damage. That is a very important statistic when looking at loss prevention and maintenance of your facility roofs. In addition to designing your roofs to meet or surpass all building code requirements, the single most important prerequisite for expediting emergency services while minimizing stress is to keep your roofs performing as originally specified. That’s why a proactive preventive maintenance program should be part of any emergency response contract.

The critical components to look for when contracting for preventive maintenance are these:

Finally, be sure to keep in mind that you will want to work with an organization well acquainted with the procedures required by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the proper filing of insurance claims to expedite any available reimbursements for work performed.


In conclusion, the best way to be prepared for a natural disaster is to have a thorough knowledge of the present condition of your roofs, and a plan for what to do when a storm strikes.

Emergency preparedness demands three things:

Consistent attention to these three issues will minimize disruptions related to all but the most extreme weather conditions.

John L. Pierson, PE, is the Engineering Services Manager for The Garland Company, Inc., a Cleveland-based manufacturer of high-performance roofing materials. He is a member of Garland’s Speaker’s Bureau and delivers seminars and AIA-accredited classes on installation techniques and roofing technology. Prior to his work with Garland, he was employed in the construction industry as a field engineer and consultant.

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