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This Building Season, Learning from the Past as We Improve the Future


One year ago, on May 20, 2013, Moore, Oklahoma experienced a deadly tornado that devastated the area. Less than one year from the event new homes became safer.

On April 17, 2014, Moore, Oklahoma, became the first in the nation to establish building code requirements to make residential buildings able to withstand the forces of an EF2 tornado. Building Code Amendments stand out as a great example of managing risk and improving building safety.

The code amendment, including requirements for roof sheathing, hurricane straps and stud spacing, is designed so that the homes can withstand winds up to 135 miles per hour. The garage door, often a weak point in buildings, is also required to be rated for 135-mph winds.

Homes built to a similar level of construction in the Wild Flower subdivision in Oklahoma City experienced damage during the May 20, 2013, tornado, and stayed structurally intact through much higher wind than they were initially designed for. The new requirements are intended to reduce the number of damaged homes and reduce the severity of that damage in lower-level tornadoes.

On October 29, 2012, Hurricane Sandy blew across the Jersey shore and downgraded to a tropical cyclone. Though it weakened in strength, it still devastated many small boroughs like Sea Bright. Many of the quaint homes that made the township unique were reduced to rubble, causing Sea Bright to look like a landfill.

For homeowner Bernard Bertino and builder Ray Guzman, building above the code standards saved their adjoining townhomes from the massive flooding that wreaked havoc on their community.

After the storm passed, both Bertino and Guzman were happy to see their homes were high and dry after the river flooded their neighborhood. Although Sandy flooded their first floor garages with nearly four feet of water, the structures sustained no flood damage because they installed flood vents in the garage. The vents allowed floodwaters to flow easily through the structure by minimizing the pressure from the force of water during impact.

When Guzman and his architect, Paul Damiano, constructed the two townhomes in 2011, they were adamant about building flood-resistant properties and wanted to build exactly to local code.

The homes were elevated to the Base Flood Elevation (BFE) plus two feet of freeboard as required by the Flood Damage Prevention Ordinance within the local building regulation. The first floor has extra reinforcement around the cement block to add support during flooding as an added mitigation measure.

All the utilities in the homes are well above the BFE on the second and third floors. Since none of the utilities were located in the garage, the owners were able to have electricity restored to their homes when the Borough of Sea Bright allowed residents to return three weeks later.

The only damage either of the structures sustained by Sandy was the loss of one shingle. It was damaged by wind-borne debris.

We observe National Building Safety Month each spring as many of us and our communities begin construction projects that will improve our homes and neighborhoods.

It’s during this “building season” that we have an opportunity to implement building safety solutions that not only help to protect ourselves and our families, but also support the needs of our communities.

At FEMA, we know that building safety and hazard mitigation provide value to the American people by creating safer communities, enabling individuals and communities to recover more rapidly from disasters, and lessening the financial impact of disasters on States, Tribes, and local communities like yours.

While we may not be able to stop natural disasters from occurring, we can all take steps to reduce their impact by building stronger and safer.

Learn more about protecting homes, communities, and businesses.

Last Updated: 
06/02/2017 - 09:21