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Barrie councillor to introduce motion calling for building code changes, incentives after tornado

Click to play video: 'Barrie tornado: City councillor says top of her house is ‘gone’' Barrie tornado: City councillor says top of her house is ‘gone’
WATCH ABOVE: Barrie councillor Natalie Harris tells Global News' Alan Carter and Farah Nasser what it was like to emerge from her basement to discover that the top of her house was "gone" following the tornado which touched down in the city on Thursday. – Jul 15, 2021

A Barrie councillor who was personally impacted by Thursday’s EF-2 tornado is set to table a motion calling for changes to the Ontario Building Code as well as incentives to help affected owners.

“Barrie was devastated by a tornado that caused substantial damage to public and private infrastructure, including homes, businesses and vehicles,” part of a draft motion posted on Ward 6 Coun. Natalie Harris’s website said.

“Governments, builders, insurance companies, researchers and others must work together to strengthen standards for building codes and construction practices to mitigate the expected damage from climate extremes, severe storms and natural disasters.”

Read more: City of Barrie staff say building code followed amid questions about some tornado-damaged homes

In her motion, Harris called for staff to partner with the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction, a disaster prevention research organization, to advocate for new measures to better protect homes from intense wind events such as requiring the use of hurricane strapping, clips or other devices in order to add additional protection to a home’s roof, walls and foundation.

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It would be up to the Ontario government to implement potential changes to the provincial building code, the master guiding document for building projects and municipalities (City building inspectors are charged with ensuring compliance with the code).

City of Barrie staff, if the motion is approved, would be required to consider new incentive programs for homeowners who are repairing and rebuilding their homes to add “severe wind resilience features” and for homeowners who didn’t experience damage to add upgrades.

On the website, it was noted the motion could change before it is introduced for consideration at the Aug. 9 council meeting.

Harris previously told Global News she was visiting her son at a home near Prince William Way and Mapleview Drive East when the powerful tornado, with estimated wind speeds of up to 210 km/h, roared through the area. She told Global News shortly after the incident that she and her son had seconds to get into the basements, praising her son’s father for calling to warn them.

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After the storm passed, Harris said she came out from the basement to look up and find the roof missing. Dozens of properties were ultimately damaged in the area.

Researchers from the Northern Tornadoes Project, a partnership between Western University and ImpactWX, came to Barrie to assess the damage and its lead researcher, civil and engineering professor Gregory Kopp, said he observed questionable damage at some properties.

“Several of the houses we could see — there’s one in particular that I put on my Twitter — where the roof just slid off,” he told Global News Radio 640 Toronto on Friday.

READ MORE: Engineering professor calls for building code changes, review of damaged homes after Barrie tornado

“You could just look up and see there were no nails in any of the trusses or one, and that’s just not adequate in a tornado. People might say, ‘Well, it’s a strong tornado, what can we do about it?’ But it would have reduced a lot of the damage we believe.”

A recommendation he raised was calling for the Ontario government to improve the province’s building code, which he generally described as being good. He said by using hurricane strapping, the devices would help to keep roofs on homes during similar types of tornados.

“We wouldn’t be talking then because all the roofs would still be on,” Kopp said, noting the strapping would cost around a few hundred dollars.

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While City of Barrie officials told Global News they were appreciative of the work being done by representatives with the Northern Tornadoes Project, they said they are concerned there might be an inference by some that the building code wasn’t followed.

“We are confident the buildings in the city of Barrie were built to code and inspected reflecting that code,” Andrea Miller, the general manager of infrastructure and growth management for the City of Barrie, told Global News Monday afternoon.

Global News asked Miller about an instance where it was reported that no nails could be seen. She said it’s highly unlikely that the trusses weren’t properly secured since every home undergoes multiple inspections to ensure it meets the building code.

“We’re shocked by the comment there were no nails. We can’t believe that there were no nails. But certainly I guess that’s possible, but certainly that’s not reflective when we do our inspections and our inspections are multiple, and our inspections are diligent, and our inspections are done by registered professionals in this industry,” she said.

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Read more: Cleanup continues following last week’s tornado in Barrie, Ont.

When it came to potential changes that could affect properties in future months and years, Miller said she and her staff are looking to undertake a broader assessment of what happened in the southern end of Barrie to see if improvements can be made elsewhere. She said advocating for the use of hurricane strapping should be part of the talks that occur.

Miller also suggested that potentially changes specific to Barrie could be made within the Ontario Building Code, but said even with changes there will always be some damage associated with such weather events in the future.

“We have to be recognizing we can build buildings but it still may not be enough to deal with some tornado-force wind. It’s a lot of load, we’ve got to recognize that,” she said.

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