Reporting From the Wake of Hurricane Charley

© 2004 Door & Access Systems
Publish Date: Fall 2004
Author: Tom Wadsworth
Pages 38-39

Reporting From the Wake of Hurricane Charley

By Tom Wadsworth with Joe Hetzel, DASMA Technical Director

On Aug. 21, my phone rings.

Tom? <crack> It’s Joe Hetzel.

Joe, you’re breaking up. Where are you?

I’m on my cell phone in a rental car in Port Charlotte, Florida. I’ve spent the last two days inspecting the damage from Hurricane Charley. (The hurricane had made landfall at Port Charlotte eight days earlier.) Can you hear me better now?

Yeah, I hear you now. Are you by yourself?

I’m alone now, but I came down here with Dr. Lee Shoemaker, another Cleveland-based professional engineer. We wanted to get down here and gather data as soon as possible. It would have been difficult to mobilize a full DASMA assessment team because so many areas are restricted. We may do that later.

What areas have you inspected?

I’ve mostly stayed in Charlotte County, the hardest-hit area. I guess I’ve inspected a 25-square-mile area between Punta Gorda and Port Charlotte. Most of the time, I was 2-7 miles from the coast.

It looks like garbage all over neighborhoods. I just now drove past an area with significant damage … homes with blown roofs and collapsed walls. Here, it seems the storm was significantly beyond anything that the building code would provide for.

How many doors have you inspected?

I’ve seen hundreds of houses with garage doors, a few up close, but mostly from my car in the street. I was hesitant to walk on private property. Some areas, especially coastal areas, have restricted access. I’ve seen a number of signs that say, “You loot, we shoot.”

Have you found any cases of hurricane-reinforced doors that were blown in or out by the wind?

Good question. Of the doors I inspected, it was clear to me that the reinforcement was inadequate on those that were compromised by the wind.

Did you get a chance to talk to any dealers about what they’ve seen?

A few, but the dealers are so busy replacing doors, they don’t have time to talk.

I was pleased when I walked in the office of a dealer in Port Charlotte. On their wall, they had a huge county map that noted the design wind speeds and exposure categories for each area. That shows me they’ve been serious about installing code-compliant doors for each location.

Have you come across any interesting garage door stories?

I went to a fire station in Charlotte County; it was built in the late 1990s. The structure was supposedly built according to the code in effect at the time. There were three 15x16 commercial doors that faced east, and three others that faced west.

Several firefighters there gave me an eyewitness account of what happened to their building during the storm. They said the eye passed right over them, so they knew they got the worst of the winds.

They were in the building during the hurricane?

Yes. They said, at one point, the winds were so strong, they saw the garage doors bow in at least a foot. Tracks started to bend, rollers popped out, the doors fell down, and then the roof blew off and flew over Interstate 75.

They were not very happy people when I got there. They said, “We’d like to have a talk with the designer of this building.” I think they were upset with some aspects of the design of the building, including the specifying of the doors.

Did the doors have evidence of reinforcement, such as struts on sections and long-stem rollers?

The doors had some reinforcement on the sections, and they had long-stem rollers. They actually gave me a bent roller as a souvenir. But there was some question about the top reinforcement of the doors. The doors may have been underspecified by the architect, or the code may not address winds this strong.

Any more interesting stories?

Here’s one more. I talked to one lady whose door did not fail. But right next door was a door that did fail. The only problem she had was that her electricity was out, and she had to operate her door manually. She said she was thankful she had handles on her door (laughs).

Overall, what have you learned in the last two days?

I learned that if a door is specified according to the code and installed according to the manufacturer’s instructions, it will perform very well in these intense storms. That includes larger doors.

What makes you say that?

I saw a number of structures that had to be less than a year old, and they evidenced minimal damage and no garage door damage. Other structures in the same area suffered significant damage.

It appears that these newer structures had doors that met the code. I believe the code is being enforced and followed on newer buildings.

All people need to do is look at how well these structures performed. Overall code compliance appears to have increased dramatically over the last several years.

It sounds like somebody has been getting the message.

Very much so. In my estimation, the excellent performance is a culmination of all the parties working together … the people who write the codes, those who enforce them and adopt them, the people who manufacture to the codes, those who sell and install the product, and the consumers who purchase the product.

What lessons have you learned for dealers?

Know the code. Sell products that meet the code. Install according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Don’t be swayed by others who may not be installing the right doors in the right way.

What lessons have you learned for manufacturers?

Communicate with dealers about their local requirements. Make sure you design and supply the right products for the market areas. It’s really the same old tune, but it really hits home when you see these areas of destruction.

Looking back at all the doors you saw, do you feel that the garage doors helped to prevent further damage?

Absolutely. Almost all the doors that sustained damage were on houses that also had other damage to exterior building products and framing. However, more than 95 percent of houses with exterior damage had no damage to the garage doors. I really believe that the doors that stayed intact kept the rest of the structure from further significant damage to both major structural framing and interior building contents.

The industry should be proud. We’re part of the team that is making it happen.

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