Inspections of hurricane damage during 2004 show clearly that the coastal construction community needs a forum for discussing coastal building performance, sharing knowledge, and highlighting those practices and products that improve the storm resistance of coastal construction.
Post-hurricane damage inspections by the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) staff and consultants show that we continue to make mistakes when it comes to coastal construction — poor site selection, inadequate foundations, ignorance or lack of understanding concerning the need for continuous load paths, use of materials or construction techniques that are inappropriate for the coastal environment, lack of attention to detail, and poor workmanship, among others. It might be easy to dismiss hurricane damage to coastal buildings that are decades old, but there is no excuse for much of the damage we saw to recently completed construction. Thousands of coastal buildings were damaged or destroyed in 2004, from North Carolina to South Florida to Alabama. Damage resulted from high winds (although less than design wind speeds, in most instances), storm surge, waves, debris (both wind-borne and flood-borne), and erosion. Unfortunately, the damage was preventable in many cases, as evidenced by nearby buildings that came through the storms quite well.
Contractors can point to a number of problems — complex codes, poor designs, lack of details on building plans, inadequate testing of new products for the coastal environment, local code enforcement problems, or the shortage of skilled construction labor. But the fact remains: Most of the deficiencies we observed could be solved with the simple application of basic building science principles. Thus, the good news is that the fixes are largely known and information exists to prevent most of the design and construction deficiencies observed.
Perhaps better or different ways of communicating critical knowledge are needed. Perhaps new avenues for exchanging information are required. I look to Coastal Contractor to help the coastal construction community do this. The magazine satisfies a need for timely and accurate information for contractors, building officials, designers, and others working along our coasts, and I look forward to future issues containing thought-provoking and helpful articles on avoiding the kinds of damages we saw from the 2004 hurricanes.
Christopher P. Jones, P.E., completed the rewrite of FEMA's Coastal Construction Manual and is currently conducting an evaluation of National Flood Insurance Program building standards.