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Re: what SEs can do NOW...

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Andrew Kester, PE wrote:
As someone who is still doing forensic work from last year's hurricanes here in FL, let me tell you, there will be work for structural engineers for years after this.
Interesting anecdote (to me, anyway):

I have been in discussions with a certain well-known firm that does quite a lot of investigation of structural failures. Wish I could name names, but I don't actually have in hand, nor have I accepted, the job offer that they tell me should be appearing in my mailbox "real soon now."

But anyway, I was privileged to have a chat with this firm's CEO not long ago. At that time, the possibility of Katrina was become very real, and I asked about their previous experience with such events.

He related that he'd earlier, that very day, been in conference with the firm's accounting department. Someone there with a rather nervous laugh said "I guess we'll have a good year this year, if that storm is as bad as they say it might be."

This fellow responded, "well, yes and no. I mean, 'yes' we'll likely get quite a lot of work out of this, unfortunately, because that's what we do. However, last year we did as well in Florida and Alabama as a result of Ivan et al criss-crossing those states, and ironically we also found that because the insurance companies--our primary source for this work--were inundated with claims, they also took an EXTREMELY long time to pay our invoices. So it all sort of balances out in the end, because we know we're going to be doing a certain amount of work given our staffing level, yet it doesn't affect us fiscally till the money actually goes into the bank."

My own take on this: The REAL long-term effect is going to be on the public attitude toward building safety, and the possible adjustment of design criteria, all of which will be reflected in changes to the building codes.

It seems to me when Hurricane Andrew laid waste to South Florida in 1990, it woke up Florida residents (and elected officialdom) to the fact that building practices, particularly residential and light commercial construction, was NOT what it should be there. This in turn led to adoption of building codes with TEETH.

I am not familiar with building code requirements in Louisiana and Mississippi, but I shouldn't wonder if they won't be strengthened as well. I know for a fact that Alabama--particularly Mobile County--did adopt stronger windstorm provisions years ago in the wake of Hurricane Frederick (1979 I believe). For example, as a result of problems with direct and indirect damage to window glass (especially mid- and high-rise building curtain walls) the design wind speed was increased, though it's been a long time and I don't recall the particulars. I remember that they were wading around in broken glass in downtown Mobile for quite awhile afterward, from glass that was mostly broken due to projectile impact (usual wind-borne debris but a high percentage of roof ballast damage).

For my own home-base here, I hope to be able to get my $0.02 in about the woeful inadequacy of light structure design in the Houston-Galveston area. If a Katrina-size storm ever makes a beeline vector from Galveston NNW to Houston, you're going to see a HUGE mess.

Check out the total destruction in Gulfport, Biloxi, Waveland, Bay St. Louis and other Mississippi towns--which weren't so much flooded out as BLOWN AWAY--and you'll understand what I'm looking at here.

But multiply the number of homes and people affected by a factor of a least five.
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