How Structural Engineers Prepare Structures for Hurricanes

Hurricanes pose one of the biggest challenges to the integrity of our buildings, and as such, structural engineers are tasked with the design and protection of buildings from the damage they can cause. They must take a number of steps to ensure that the structures they design are able to withstand the force of a hurricane, and then some. We can’t settle for “good enough” – when a bigger-than-expected hurricane hits, we want to be prepared.

The nature of a hurricane demands that we build the structure to withstand extreme winds, as well as ensure that there is adequate flood protection throughout the structure. The first step in protecting a structure from hurricane damage is to design it to withstand extreme wind forces. Often, the structural engineering design with hurricanes in mind will begin with a calculation of the forces that are acting on the structure, and it is necessary that these structures be designed to withstand the maximum load which can be applied to them. A building’s maximum load includes the typical day-to-day stressors, as well as the maximum force we expect to protect against. 

This is done by determining the capacity of the structure’s foundation and ensuring that it is strong enough to support the structure and withstand the maximum force which will be applied during a storm. Some foundations are not capable of withstanding the force of heavy winds and are therefore reinforced with metal piles driven deep into the ground to ensure that they are strong enough to support the building. In addition to the strength of the foundation, engineers need to consider the size of the structure when designing it to withstand the forces exerted by the wind. The forces that act on a building depend upon its dimensions, so the building’s size necessarily determines other factors, such as the size of its foundation.

Wind speed poses a unique problem to engineers, which we’ve discussed on its own in a previous article. If the wind velocity is too high, it can create strong shearing forces or oscillation within the building that causes it to shake. In order to prevent this from occurring, the structure must be designed to accommodate the wind speed that it will be subjected to during a storm. The solution to this problem often demands unique solutions – such as tapered buildings, or massive internal weighted dampers that will counteract the swaying of a structure.

Finally, engineers must implement measures to protect the outside of the building from damage caused by flooding. Hurricanes bring a lot of water and sudden flash flooding which may cause a substantial amount of erosion around the foundation of a building. By creating water-tight barriers around the structure, engineers are able to provide protection from water and prevent the ingress of water into the building during the storm. Flood protection is also important for the structural integrity of the building because it ensures that the foundation is protected from becoming damaged during the storm. When a flood occurs, the water carries away the soil that surrounds the foundation of the building and weakens its foundation. Without the protection of the flood barrier and metal piles, the foundation can become unstable and lead to the eventual collapse of the building even after the storm has passed.

Our team at DDA Engineers, P.A. is ready to bring our expertise to your next project. Give us a call at (305) 666-0711 to discuss your big plans, and what we can do for you.

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