April 16, 2015 5:14 pm

How Western University is helping Americans in tornado alley

A tornado moves past homes in Moore, Okla. on Monday, May 20, 2013. Moore has been struck by two serious tornadoes over the past 15 years.

AP Photo/Alonzo Adams
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TORONTO – In 2013, the town of Moore, Oklahoma, experienced two tornadoes that killed 27 people and cost about $3 billion in damage. Just one year later, in an effort to reduce damages, the town adopted a new building code unlike any other: it took into account tornadoes.

Now, a new study led by researchers at Western University in London, Ontario, has concluded that these building codes should be more widely adopted.

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READ MORE: Gallery – Moore, Oklahoma residents return home after deadly tornado

The idea is that implementing these building codes — making buildings stronger against tornadoes — will be highly cost effective. In fact, the study concluded that the cost benefit was about three to one.

However, that’s not to say people living in homes with these building codes would be immune from all types of damage.

Each year in the United States, there are on average about 1,200 tornadoes. Tornadoes are measured using Enhanced Fujita Scale on a scale of EF0 (weakest) to EF5 (strongest). Investigators assess the damage and can estimate wind speed. About 90 per cent of those 1,200 tornadoes are EF2 or lower, said Gregory Kopp from Western Engineering, one of the study’s researchers. This new design would help reduce damage from tornadoes up to EF2.

WATCH: Tornado in Oklahoma on March 25, 2015

Kopp said that even for those EF5 tornadoes, about 50 per cent of the area damaged is due to EF2 winds.

“The Moore building code isn’t going to stop roof shingles from blowing off; it’s not going to stop vinyl siding from coming off, it’s not going to stop windows from being broken,” he said.” What it’s going to do is keep the roof structure in tact. It’s going to keep the walls attached to the foundation so you don’t get a major structural failure. And that will lower the losses.”

“It’s not saying the losses are going to go to zero. It’s saying we’re going to keep the structures intact.”

And that’s important. Just think: A roof that comes off your house during a tornado means your valuables are being lost to the wind; it means your home is now structurally unsound and needs to be rebuilt; it means that all that roofing debris — wooden beams, for example — are now blowing in the wind and possibly causing damage to other homes, or worse, killing someone.

Damage after EF2 tornado tears through Woodbridge, Ontario, in 2009.

Nicole Mortillaro

“This makes sense to do in a lot of places, but it for sure makes sense to do everywhere in Oklahoma,” Kopp said.

The findings of this study can also be used here at home and for less than it cost in Moore — about $1 per square foot, or roughly $2000. Here in Canada, it could be done for around $150. And that’s because Canadian homes are more robust due to our climate.

READ MORE: Is Canada experiencing more tornadoes?

Kopp added, however, that the researchers are still trying to prove that it’s economical here.

“But I think if you ask people in Angus if they would pay $200 more, I think they’d say yes,” Kopp said, referring to the tornado that caused massive damage in June 2014 in Angus, Ontario.

“I think any of those houses that lost their roofs, I think all of that was entirely preventable.”

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