The official 2020 hurricane season begins in just two days. NOAA forecasts a 60% likelihood of an above-average season. As reported in the Washington Post earlier this month, the 2020 season has a “70% chance of 13 to 19 named storms, six to 10 of which will become hurricanes. Three to six of those could become major hurricanes of Category 3 intensity or higher, and there is a chance that the season will become ‘extremely active’.” In the Caribbean, this reality must be coupled with earthquakes, like the ones Puerto Rico has endured for most of 2020.
Because of Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, followed by Dorian in 2019, around 1 million structures, mostly homes, were either damaged or destroyed on islands throughout the Caribbean and Western Atlantic. Add in losses from the recent earthquakes that hit Puerto Rico, and that number grows even further. Although not official, 1 million homes in need of rescue is an enormous quantity. Bringing those homes back to life would be an overwhelming task for any one nation, even the United States. That the damage has occurred on a variety of dispersed islands creates an even greater challenge, one I would argue is unprecedented.
Imagine living in a resilient HabiTek steel framework during hurricane season in Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, or any of the many other islands in the Caribbean. You learn that a hurricane is headed in your direction, but you only have two days to prepare. Past experience would compel you to gather up important possessions and make plans to evacuate out of the storm’s path. Of course, this can be a dubious proposition as often there is no place that isn’t in the storm’s direct path.
The immense destruction in 2017 caused by Hurricanes Irma and Maria in the Caribbean continues to be in the news. It is impossible to comprehend the scale of the losses. Several of these island were scoured, stripped of most buildings and even vegetation. Irma is considered the most powerful Atlantic Ocean storm in recorded history; worse still, climatologists predict more of these Cat. 4 & Cat. 5 (185 mph) storms in the future. More lives lost, and more billions of dollars in damage.
We are all deeply saddened by the tragic loss of life in the Bahamas caused by hurricane Dorian. We wish you a speedy recovery.
“Obliterated” is the word CNN used to describe the impact of Cat. 5 hurricane Dorian on the Abaco Island of the Bahamas. We live in a new world as a result of global warming in which Category 4 and 5 hurricanes are the norm – and this is not expected to change soon, if ever. In 2017, large portions of the US Virgin Islands, Dominica, Barbuda, and Puerto Rico were devastated by the Cat. 4 winds generated by hurricanes Maria and Irma. Consequently, as many as three quarters of a million homes have been either severely damaged or totally destroyed in the Caribbean and Western Atlantic in the last two years.
Despite increased moves towards prefabrication in home building, stick-framing, whether using wood or steel studs, will persist because it is FLEXIBLE in the sense that it does not place limitations on size, configuration, or the style of a house. Combined with the ubiquity of the lumber and framing crews in the United States, it is not likely prefab (as in completed units delivered from the factory) will ever significantly penetrate the home building market.
What has happened in California is an unimaginable tragedy, and it is not easy to fathom why. Governor Jerry Brown described the calamity recently as the “new-abnormal,” and invoked climate change as a culprit. Whatever the reasons, transformative change in the way houses are constructed in wildfire prone areas is long past due.
Although I don’t claim to be an expert in fire prevention, it is logical that we reconsider the MATERIALS used to build houses. We need to consider building non-flammable houses that don’t contribute fuel and stand a chance of surviving. This, of course, is called pre-disaster mitigation. The Institute of Building Sciences, working with FEMA and HUD, has found that $1 spent on mitigation saves $6 in future disaster costs, and would save many lives.
HabiTek’s Adapt-1 beta project is nearly all steel and concrete construction. While not done to avoid wildfires, which are rare on the Baja Peninsula, the Adapt-1 project points in a positive direction. By adding common steel roofing, and by installing metal shutters at the windows and door openings, a version of the Adapt-1 approach would eliminate any role in adding fuel to the fire, and would stand a good chance of surviving. And because our steel frameworks are pre-engineered to resist earthquakes, which are also part of California’s landscape, a HabiTek house makes even more sense. The time to mitigate is now.
In an age of massive technological change on so many fronts, some things never change. High on the list is how homes are built in the US, and for that matter, most of the world. And not even the massive destruction of buildings, primarily habitation, by natural forces – wind, water, fire and earthquakes – seems to cause much change. Haiti’s predicament is a prime example. Not even an earthquake, that caused around 200,000 deaths and destroyed around 160,000 houses, has resulted in any meaningful change in building practices. This would seem inexplicable, since the vast majority of those that perished did so precisely because of the way houses were constructed. Even Haiti’s extreme poverty is not sufficient to explain why nothing has changed.