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Concrete is resistant to wind, hurricanes, floods, and fire.

Concrete, as a structural material and as the


building exterior skin, has the ability to withstand natures normal
deteriorating mechanisms as well as natural disasters. Properly designed,
reinforced concrete is resistant to earthquakes and provides blast
protection for occupants. Concrete safe rooms help provide protection
from earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, fires, and other disasters.

Fire Resistance
Concrete offers noncombustible construction that helps contain a fire
within boundaries.
Image After a fire, concrete
and masonry may be all that
remains. (PCA)

As a separation wall, concrete helps to prevent a fire from


spreading throughout a building.

As an exterior wall or roof, concrete helps to prevent a fire from jumping from building to
building.

During wild fires, concrete walls and roofs help provide protection to human life and the
occupants possessions within a building.

Concrete helps contain a fire even if no water supply is available, whereas sprinklers rely on a
water source.

Concrete that endures a fire can often be reused when the building is rebuilt.

The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) E119, Standard Test Methods for Fire Tests of
Building Construction and Materials, describes test procedures for
determining fire endurance of building materials. In fire endurance tests,
concrete generally fails by heat transmission long before structural failure,
whereas other construction materials fail by heat transmission when
collapse is imminent. A 2-hr fire endurance for a concrete wall will most
likely mean the wall gets hot (experiences an average temperature rise of
250 F for all points or 325 F at any one point.) The fire endurance of
concrete can be determined by its thickness and type of aggregate using
ACI procedures.
Stucco is fire-resistant,

which is one of the main


reasons this home was the
only house left standing on
this California hillside after
the wild fire. (PCA No.
13560)

Concrete has also performed well during the Urban-Wildland Interface


fires that have destroyed billions of dollars of property in Southern
California and other parts of the western U.S. Hilly terrain, hot dry winds,
combustible vegetation, and closely spaced dwellings create favorable
conditions for these types of fire. This trend is expected to continue as
populations continue to expand into wildland areas. Data collected after these fires shows a correlation
between fire damage and the exterior surfaces of buildings, including:

Concrete or clay tile roofs performed much better than wood shake or shingle roofs.
Buildings having noncombustible exterior wall surfaces, such as masonry or stucco, achieved a
higher level of survival.
Double-pane windows are needed to minimize heat transfer to the building interior.

Minimal roof projections or the use of non-combustible materials to


protect combustible eaves and projections plus the elimination of soffit
vents will also increase a structure's chances of surviving a wildland
fire.

Tornado, Hurricane, and Wind Resistance


Concrete is resistant to tornadoes, hurricanes, and wind. Following Hurricane
Katrina, a concrete house was the sole house left standing in a Pass Christian,
The Sundbergs' home, in
MS, neighborhood.
the Pass Christian, MS,
Investigators have learned from previous hurricanes that:
area affected by
Hurricane Katrina, is
shown in the yellow
circle and is a prime

Asphalt shingles often failed due to holes created by staple guns.


example of the durability
Nails held better than staples if they were properly placed.
of concrete homes. (PCA
photo from FEMA)

Clay roof tiles resisted wind forces better than asphalt shingles but
were apt to shatter if hit by flying debris.

Concrete roof tiles suffered similar damage as clay roof tiles from debris, but were more
resistant to shattering than clay tiles.

Asphalt gravel roofs, if not well maintained, were flaked off in layers by the wind, exposing sublayers.

Plywood sheathing failures were due to inadequate nailing.

Particle board does not provide a good base for the attachment of surface roofing materials.

Gables were more prone to failure than hip roofs. Gables constructed of concrete masonry faired
much better than frame construction. Inadequate attachment to walls and inadequate lateral
support caused many failures of gables, particularly wood frame gables.

Concrete block walls performed well. Concrete masonry construction was more forgiving of poor
craftsmanship than wood frame construction. Compliance with the SSTD 10-93, Standard for
Hurricane Resistant Residential Construction or the provisions of ACI 530/ASCE 5/TMS402-95 would
have probably reduced the amount of damage observed in these structures.

Masonry veneer also performed well when properly constructed and connected to the structure.
Damaged veneers were invariably a result of corroded, inadequate, or improperly embedded ties.
Masonry veneer structures subjected to storm surges were able in many cases to withstand the
storm surge better than wood frame houses without veneer.

Wood frame walls performed poorly unless well designed and constructed.

Loads on building components and connections are significantly increased when the envelope is
breached by high wind or flying debris. Masonry systems
appeared to resist breaching as well, if not better, than other
wall systems.

Windows and doors need to be carefully installed.


Windows must be protected with hurricane shutters.

Debris driven by high winds presents the greatest hazard to


homeowners and their homes during hurricanes and tornados.
Tests show that concrete wall systems suffer no structural damage
when impacted by debris carried by hurricane and tornado-force
This wood 2x4 impaled a wood
winds.
frame home due to a tornado
spawned by Hurricane Katrina
As another example, in 1967, a series of deadly tornadoes hit
(http://www.noaa.gov/)
northern Illinois, killing 57 people and destroying 484 homes.

Damages at the time were estimated at $50 million. Two prestressed concrete structures, a grocery
store and a high school, were in the direct path of two tornadoes that struck almost simultaneously.
Repairs to the structural system of the grocery store were less than $200. In the high school, structural
damage was also limited.

Flood Resistance
Concrete is not damaged by water; concrete that does not dry out continues to gain strength in the
presence of moisture. Concrete submerged in water absorbs very small amounts of water over long
periods of time, and the concrete is not damaged. In flood-damaged areas, concrete buildings are often
salvageable. Concrete dams and levees are used for long-lasting flood control.
In the rebuilding of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, architects and engineers are looking at
structures that will keep water out and not shift or float away when submersed in floodwaters. One
solution is reinforced concrete walls to the roof height with a 12-in. thick concrete slab. In one example,
the slab will be kept in place with 8-in. helical anchors drilled 10 to 13 feet into the ground (Architect
Hank Browne and engineers DMK Group, April 2006 Building Design and Construction).
Concrete will only contribute to moisture problems in buildings if it is enclosed in a system that traps
moisture between the concrete and other building materials. For instance, a vinyl wall covering in hot
and humid climates will act as a vapor retarder and moisture can get trapped between the concrete and
the wall covering. For this reason, impermeable wall coverings (such as vinyl wallpaper) should not be
used on concrete walls.
High Humidity and Wind-Driven Rain
Concrete is not affected by wind-driven rain and moist outdoor air in hot and humid climates because it
is impermeable to air infiltration and wind-driven rain. Moisture that enters a building must come
through joints between concrete elements. Annual inspection and repair of joints will minimize this
potential. More importantly, if moisture does enter through joints, it will not damage the concrete. Good
practice for all types of wall construction is to have permeable materials that breathe (are allowed to
dry) on at least one surface and to not encapsulate concrete between two impermeable surfaces.
Concrete will dry out if not covered by impermeable treatments.
Earthquake Resistance
Concrete is resistant to earthquakes. Earthquakes in Guam, the United
States (Richter scale 8.1); Manila, the Philippines (Richter scale 7.2); and
Kobe, Japan (Richter scale 6.9) have subjected concrete buildings to
some of natures deadliest forces. Concrete framing systems have a
proven capacity to withstand these major earthquakes. Another pertinent
example is the 1994 Northridge, CA, earthquake (Richter scale 6.8). It
was one of the costliest natural disasters in U.S. history, with total
damages estimated at $20 billion. Most engineered structures within the
affected region performed well, including structures with concrete
components. It should be noted that parking structures with large plan
areasregardless of structural systemdid not perform as well as other
types of buildings.

The L.A. Metro Blue Line


Bridge was designed to
sustain no functional damage
from the worst earthquake
expected in the next 75
years, and only minimal
damage from an earthquake
10 times stronger than the
Built according to good practices, concrete homes can be among the
safest and most durable types of structures during an earthquake. Homes 1995 Northridge quake. (PCA
No. 10037)
built with reinforced concrete walls have a record of surviving
earthquakes intact, structurally sound and largely unblemished. In
reinforced concrete construction, the combination of concrete and steel
provides the three most important properties for earthquake
resistance: stiffness, strength, and ductility.
Studies of earthquake damage consistently show well-anchored shear
walls are the key to earthquake resistance in low-rise buildings. Optimal
design conditions include shear walls that extend the entire height and
are located on all four sides of a building. Long walls are stronger than
short walls, and solid walls are better than ones with a lot of openings
for windows and doors. These elements are designed to survive severe
Properly anchored walls are
sideways (in-plane) forces, called racking and shear, without being
key to earthquake resistance in
damaged or bent far out of position. Shear walls also must be well
low rise buildings
anchored to the foundation structure to work effectively. Properly
(http://www.cement.org/)
installed steel reinforcing bars extend across the joint between the
walls and the foundation to provide secure anchorage to the foundation.

Low-rise buildings most vulnerable to earthquakes do not have the necessary stiffness, strength, and
ductility to resist the forces of an earthquake or have walls that are not well anchored to a solid
foundation, or both. Three types of buildings sustain the most significant damage:

Multi-story buildings with a ground floor consisting only of columns;

Wood-frame houses with weak connections between the walls and foundation;

Unreinforced masonry or concrete buildings

Reinforced concrete walls work well because of the composite system: Concrete resists compression
forces, and reinforcing steel resists tensile forces produced by an earthquake. Even a lightly reinforced
concrete shear wall has over six times the racking load resistance as framed wall construction.
Fortifiedfor safer living
The Fortifiedfor safer living program an initiative of the Institute for
Business & Home Safety, provides design, construction, and landscaping
guidelines to increase a new home's resistance to natural disaster.
Fortified techniques and construction materials raise a homes overall
disaster-resistance above the minimum requirement of local building
codes. Extra attention is given to areas especially vulnerable to harsh
elements, including doors and windows, roof construction and the
foundation.
Homes are exposed to one or more
extreme weather events, such as high
earthquake. The website
indicates major threats depending on the
A Fortified home under construction in
protection against tornadoes, hail and
of the states most destructive natural
construction features in this home will

Precast concrete Fortified


home under construction in
Illinois (PCA website, DuKane
Precast)

Extreme weather events


(http://www.ibhs.org/)
wind, wildfire, flood, hail and
(http://www.ibhs.org/)
region of the country.
Illinois will have added
severe winter weather three
elements. Fortified
include:

Connections that securely tie the house together from roof to foundation, protecting the
structure from winds with speeds up to 130 mph

Impact-resistant roof materials that better withstand high winds and are fire resistant.

Windows and doors with higher wind and water design pressure ratings and a garage door
capable of withstanding impact from large objects.

Construction materials and siting work that eliminate the threat of flood or wildfire.

Blast resistance
Concrete has demonstrated blast resistance through tests. The
Insulating Concrete Form Association (ICFA) and the Northern
Virginia Concrete Advisory Council successfully demonstrated the
blast-resistant properties of ICF building systems during the Force
Protection Equipment Demonstration (FPED V) April 2628, 2005, at
Quantico Marine Corps Base in Northern Virginia. During the blast
demonstrations, eleven separate ICF reaction boxes, weighing 13
tons apiece and with walls measuring 8 feet tall and 6 inches thick
were subjected to explosion from 50 lbs of TNT at differing distances
ICF reaction boxes prior to blast
(3.5 feet to 10 feet) and to pressures from 300 pounds per square
test (http://www.cement.org/)
inch (psi) to over 7,000 psi. Known for decades for its impact
resistant properties, expanded polystyrene (psi), the primary

An ICF wall after a 50 lb.


TNT detonation from 10
feet away.
(http://www.cement.org/ )

material in ICFs, has recently shown great potential as a blast-resistant


product. In each instance during six different blast demonstrations, EPS
compressed against the face of the concrete wall and reduced the
pressure of the blast.
In addition, high performance concrete can be designed to have improved
blast resistant properties. These concretes often have a compressive
strength exceeding 14,500 psi and contain steel fibers. These blastresistant structures are often used in bank vaults and military
applications.
Building Protection
Ubiquitous precast concrete planters provide protection to federal
buildings, museums, and national landmarks. These barriers are
attractive yet are a deterrent to wayward vehicles. Attractive concrete
barriers that also provide seating are becoming commonplace.

Concrete planters in
Washington DC (National
Precast Concrete
Association)

September 11, 2001 World Trade Center


Comparing the present with the past in the world around us can be an
important learning experience. Such was the case for the Federal Emergency Management Agency
(FEMA) and the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), in the difficult task of conducting an
evaluation of the World Trade Center (WTC) and surrounding buildings.

On September 11, 2001, airplanes struck two 110-story office towers in New York and the Pentagon in
Washington, D.C. The towers (WTC 1 and WTC 2) collapsed in less than
two hours, and another building in the complex (WTC 7) collapsed later in
the afternoon. These buildings had few or no masonry components. All of
the surrounding buildings suffered damage from falling debris, wreckage,
and fire from the towers. While the impact of portions of the collapsing
buildings did the majority of harm, there was also damage from flying
debris to the masonry used in their construction.
Examples demonstrate how masonry helped prevent greater destruction
during the World Trade Center disaster. Some of the lessons learned:

Buildings surrounding World


Trade Center collapse Sept.
29, 2001 (FEMA Photo
5695, http://www.fema.gov/
)

Older framed buildings with masonry components performed generally better than newer
buildings with lightweight curtain wall construction.

Masonry (walls, beams, partitions, infill) served as fireproofing and provided significant
structural redundancy.

Masonry infill absorbed impact energy to minimize damage locally.

Masonry veneers and panelized systems are readily repaired.

Masonry proved in this event that it does more than simply enclose space; it provides fire protection,
structural capacity, and even structural redundancy. It can provide safer enclosures for stairways or
other exit routes, affording egress in high-rise buildings during emergencies.