Rebuilding Moore, OK - City Responds, Re-engineers and Rebuilds Following Devastating Tornadoes
Having grown up in Moore, Oklahoma, Stan Drake is a long-standing member of his community. He attended the local high school and now serves as the Assistant City Manager. Drake, like many Moore residents, is very passionate about the town and the people that comprise the place he calls home.
Sadly, his small town community has faced tornadoes of historic proportions – two of those storms among the strongest ever recorded. His city, home to beautiful neighborhoods and thriving economic development, has earned the unfortunate distinction as the frequent target of killer tornadoes.
“By 2013 we were beginning to ask some questions of each other,” said Terry Cavnar, State Farm Agent and Moore City Council Member. “We can no longer ignore this. We can’t say this isn’t going to happen again because it continues to happen. So, we began to look at the options.”
In the past 15 years, the city of Moore has fallen victim to tornadoes on three separate occasions. In 1999, an EF-5 tornado swept through the community causing $1.2 billion in damage, and taking 40 lives. In 2003, an EF-4 devastated the town. Most recently in 2013, Moore faced a second EF-5, killing 24 and causing $2 billion in damage.
After each storm, Drake and other city officials were left to wonder what – if anything – they could do to better prepare their community for these catastrophic storms. After the 2013 storm, they decided to take action.
A Time To Act
The search for answers led to the formation of a special committee made up of council members, builders and citizens to re-examine building codes and ensure all new construction was best equipped to deal with extreme weather.
The committee called on Chris Ramseyer, Associate Professor-Civil Engineering at the University of Oklahoma to help in the planning effort. Even before the 2013 storm, Ramseyer had been studying the performances of residential structures in high-wind events and was very familiar with the city’s plight.
“I was here the next morning,” Ramseyer said of his hours following the 2013 tornado. Amongst the utter devastation, Ramseyer found what he was looking for. “We had a house with a slab essentially wiped clean. It was EF5 damage,” he said. But just seventy feet away, a home stood largely intact. The two homes were too close to have provided for much difference in wind speed, Ramseyer concluded that the structure must have saved the second home.
The committee developed their plan of attack and agreed all future homes needed to be practical, affordable and repeatable on a large scale.
“Chris looked at it from both structural integrity and also cost. The impact it would have on the cost of residential construction,” said Drake. “And I think the homebuilders bought into that, and they had confidence in him.”
Building Better AND Stronger
The result was to refine the building technique, rather than adding new materials. The new approach called for a change in the basic house framing, pushing builders and contractors to expand upon their normal approach. Longtime Moore builder, Tom Pollard notes,“ it’s not even a big cost issue, it’s just an educational process.”
“The biggest difference is in the framing,” said Cavnar. “With some more tie-ins, especially between the walls and the roofing, strengthening in your openings, framed openings, windows and doors.”
In addition to the added protection, there was more good news: The cost.
“Our research shows that you can do it for a cost of roughly a dollar a square foot,” said Ramseyer.
Drake and the committee are enthusiastic about this new approach as a means to protect, preserve and prepare the homes of Moore.
“We were ecstatic,” said Terry Cavnar. “We could do something that would withstand an F3 tornado, 135 miles an hour, for a minimal amount of cost. We were thrilled.”
And while the success of these measures will ultimately be born out in the coming tornado seasons, for now this process stands out as a great example of what can be accomplished when a community works together.
“This has been one of the easiest code changes I’ve been involved in,” said Drake. “I didn’t think that would be the case when we started this process, but it was.”