Thought Leadership: Structural Engineering

Designing High-Wind Protection Areas

The impact of the destruction left by the Greensburg, Joplin and Moore tornadoes is still felt today for people who live in the Midwest. At Hollis + Miller, the Joplin disaster hits especially close to home. Just a short drive from our Kansas City office, many of our team members helped in the immediate clean up, and Hollis + Miller was a part of Operation Rebuild, leading the design of their new early childhood, elementary and middle schools.

The design community took a hard look at requirements and codes following these natural disasters. As part of this reassessment, the International Building Code started requiring storm shelters for educational buildings in 2015, which apply to any new structures, with more than 50 occupants, located in the 250-mph zone. The shelters must be designed according to ICC-500 standards and be able to house all occupants of the new space.

Understanding criteria

The all-encompassing new codes include parameters on area per person, restroom requirements and backup-power options. Hollis + Miller’s Structural Team is well-versed in the structural design criteria, including missile protection, venting and structural framing schemes, and understand the implications these requirements have on the final structure.

Blending safety with preparedness

Gymnasiums, cafeterias and music rooms are excellent locations for large groups of people to congregate during a storm but are more challenging to design structurally. These oversized spaces generally have long-span beams and taller walls. While efficient for protection, the large structural forces require thicker walls and a deeper structure to frame the building.  

Choosing the right materials

To resist the high pressures these large structures create, many materials can satisfy the design parameters. Our engineers work alongside the design team early to prevent design, budget and timeline complications later. As with any structure, location in the building, spans, heights and use all play a factor in the final structural material chosen.

As 100% learning environment specialists, our structural engineering team has more experience designing school storm shelters than your average practitioner and are confident in providing the right solution to any educational facility storm shelter.

John Funk, PE is Hollis + Miller’s Structural Director. He recently presented on high-wind protection areas and storm shelters for the National Council of Structural Engineers Association (NCSEA) in a webinar entitled “ICC Storm Shelter Design: Code Criteria and Project Challenges.”

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