Building for Resiliency: WKMC Building Projects Stand Up to Hurricane Harvey

Jonathan SwindleExpert Advice

As Hurricane Harvey made landfall near Rockport, Texas on the night of August 25th, thousands of South Texas residents braced for a record-breaking storm that grew from a tropical depression to a category 4 hurricane in just 56 hours. After hitting land and stalling, Hurricane Harvey made a slow trek back toward the Gulf of Mexico before making landfall for the second time near Cameron, Louisiana on August 30th. In total, Harvey drenched the Texas and Louisiana Gulf coast with approximately 27 trillion gallons of rain over six days and holds the historical record for being the longest surviving storm on land with a total of 117 hours.

In its wake, Hurricane Harvey left well over $100 billion in damages, and as storms become even more powerful, it becomes even more important for architects and construction professionals to create structures that can withstand the elements. That’s why in addition to staying on top of the latest methods and advancements in building and construction, WKMC Architects is committed to assessing our existing structures after storms hit.

Hurricane Harvey: Before and After

WKMC Architects has a long history of designing successful projects in high-risk coastal areas. Many lessons can be learned through close observations and comparisons of the storm’s damage, and the fact of the matter is that better design and construction greatly enhance a building’s ability to survive a major storm. After evaluating 41 of our projects located in areas most heavily impacted by Hurricane Harvey, WKMC is pleased to report that our building projects weathered the storm very well. Each of the sites surveyed were projects designed within the last 25 years and none had any major structural damage. These building projects were located in Portland (11), Gregory (3), Ingleside (11), Aransas Pass (4), Rockport (2), Port Aransas (5), Refugio (1), and Sinton (5).

Of the 41 building structures, the five most seriously damaged buildings virtually only incurred damage to roof membranes, roof sheeting, or experienced shingle loss. The structures most affected by Hurricane Harvey included the Ingleside High School Gymnasium built in 1998, Gregory-Portland High School built in 2000, the University of Texas-Marine Science Institute built in 2005, and the Rockport City Services Building which was built in 2015 and suffered damage to its metal roof.  In addition, two of the most seriously damaged buildings had roofing membranes that were almost 20 years old. However, thanks to advances in building methods and materials, current roofing membrane systems are far more resistant to wind uplift and may be better able to withstand the threat of severe storms.

Built to Last

There are a number of methods WKMC incorporates into its design plans when constructing buildings in high-risk areas. Some of the basic measures include:

  • Placing a building at a higher elevation is the only significant means of protecting a structure from storm surge.
  • Heavier materials generally require greater wind speeds to move and are less likely to become flying debris.
  • Once a building’s exterior envelope is breached, major structural failure is far more likely to occur. Impact resistant building envelopes provide critical protection against water and structural damage.
  • Building accessibility and hurricanes don’t coexist well. High winds will almost always drive water into building entries and doors. It is often damage prevention to place sandbags against your building entrances in advance of storm evacuation.
  • New building codes for coastal zones were created for very good reasons. These codes are significantly improving the survivability of buildings for wind speeds between 100 to 130 mph.
  • The roof systems required by today’s windstorm codes are as much as 25%-35% more resistant to wind uplift than those used 20 years ago.

To learn more about WKMC Architects and our wide range of design and building services contact us today at (361) 887-6696, or email us at info@wkmcarchitects.com.