Storm Codes Require Weather-Rated Electronic Components
If you watch the Weather Channel, you may have observed that weather patterns are changing. From Hurricane Sandy in the Northeast in 2012 to Patricia just this past October, weather isn’t behaving the same way it seemed to in the past.
“When I was growing up tornadoes didn’t touch down in New York State,” says Mark Berger, president and chief product officer, Securitech, Maspeth, NY. “Now they are a greater concern.” Hurricane-resistant buildings are also going up in more areas across the country than ever before, he adds.
Allegion, Carmel, Ind., noted in a recent whitepaper on windstorm solutions that practically every U.S. state is at risk for either tornadoes or hurricanes today. From 2010-2012 there were more than 3,900 tornadoes, resulting in 667 deaths, the company reports. According to Weather Underground statistics, as recently as 2012 and 2010 there were 10 and 12 named Atlantic hurricanes that resulted in hundreds of deaths and millions of dollars’ worth of damage. While in the Pacific, the 2015 season has been the busiest since 1985. In October, Hurricane Patricia, which hit western Mexico as a Category 5, was the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Western hemisphere.
Minu Youngkin, marketing manager for Allegion, says these facts are much more than just interesting statistics for weather junkies — they represent opportunity for systems integrators. “I don’t think [integrators] are as up on this as they should be. They may come into it with a ‘why do I care?’ attitude, but because of these changing weather patterns they are doing themselves an injustice if they are not aware. If a project is located in a tornado or hurricane-prone region, there are certain regulations and integrators need to understand those codes. If they don’t, they are losing an opportunity to expand their business by being a full consultant.”
Most integrators understand fire codes and ratings and what can and can’t be done to a door. Hurricane and tornado rated doors, openings and products are similar, but if anything more stringent. Openings that have windstorm ratings can still have access control, but there are special considerations, Allegion’s whitepaper states.
“Integrators need to know that, unlike other access systems and products they touch and configure, an opening that carries hurricane and tornado certifications are by code required to be certified as assemblies,” explains Kurt Roeper, director of industry affairs, codes and standards, ASSA ABLOY Americas, New Haven, Conn. “This is different than their typical world where they can use this part and that piece and open four catalogs to configure a solution based on the components that are most appropriate for the specific application.”
In new construction situations an integrator may simply need to make sure the right door is ordered and prepped for the access control solution he or she is going to install. However, in retrofit situations where there may not be an architect or engineer involved, it is up to the integrator to be the code expert for the customer. And that means the integrator needs to know whether there is a tornado or hurricane code that could apply to that opening before doing any design or drilling that could void the assembly listing. Knowing the right questions to ask can be critical.
“The conversation may be short, but if it is not had at all, there is a lot of risk,” Youngkin adds.
While tornadoes, hurricanes and high winds have a lot of commonalities, the codes that govern them are not the same. Hurricane codes are generally designed to harden the structure to survive driving wind and rain, and possibly flooding; tornado codes are specific to shelters and designed to protect people. The first step to knowing what is required is to know which codes apply.
According to Allegion, any types of buildings can be required to have windstorm or hurricane rated solutions, including schools, healthcare facilities, commercial buildings, retail locations and community storm shelters — and these requirements are expanding outward from the traditional epicenter of hurricanes, sometimes officially and other times by best practice. After the devastating Hurricane Andrew in 1992, Miami-Dade County in Florida developed a set of codes and product evaluations that has been copied or adopted by the state of Florida and many neighboring states in the ensuing years, says Tim Weller, manager of codes, standards and sustainability for Allegion. “Historically it has always been Florida and perhaps the Gulf states; but now we are seeing more and more interest from people all the way up the coast as a result of hurricane Sandy.” Some states, like Texas, have their own, similar version of the code, he adds.
As with fire regulations, each state and region may have their own version or interpretation of a code, so it is important to work closely with the local authority having jurisdiction (AHJ). “Some AHJs in Florida accept Florida building code, but many still prefer the Miami-Dade code instead,” Weller says. “We are into the 2015 code cycle and accepting comment for 2018, yet if you go to Mississippi and some other states they may still be working off five or 10-year-old codes.
“It varies by state, but we are getting inquiries in the field up to the Carolinas, New Jersey and Maryland because there is now a new awareness that this could happen again there.”
Ted Bielitz, senior product manager, Barantec Inc. is based in Clifton, N.J. and has seen the effects of Sandy first-hand, He says that even if code isn’t requiring it at the moment, customers are more interested than ever before in hurricane-resistant solutions. Barantec manufactures rugged keypad readers that are IP69 rated for extreme environments. (see sidebar on page 92)
The National Electrical Code may also come into play, where the NEC may want to see something even if the building code doesn’t require it, he adds. “Atlantic City was flooded [during Sandy] and several jails were submerged. They couldn’t get access to doors because their keypads were shorting out. It is not always because of a forced code, but it may be a construction official, or specified by architects, designers or security people who are worried about salt water immersion.”
Roeper, too, has seen the Florida codes requested in areas outside the traditional hurricane zone. “I have over many years seen projects, plans and specification that require exterior openings to have Florida statewide product approvals for use on their projects. It isn’t mandatory in those areas, but it is best practice.”
However, he acknowledges that with some statistics showing a 10-year low in hurricane activity that these projects are highly reactionary. This is not so with tornadoes, he adds. “The 2009 edition of the International Building Code (IBC) recognized that if someone were going to build a tornado shelter it had to be constructed to ICC 500 Standard for the Design and Construction of Storm Shelters. In the 2015 edition of the IBC there is a new requirement that makes the inclusion of tornado shelters mandatory in Group E occupancies, which is K-12 schools. That is a dramatic change in the way we will build K-12 structures.
“Then we just finished the content of the 2018 Existing Building Code (EBC), which won’t be published for a while; but there will be a mandatory requirement for existing buildings.” This means that any school that creates an addition under the EBC would have to provide tornado shelter space for all occupants of the campus, not just the occupants of the new addition.
Add to this the parallel trend of schools simultaneously starting to require lockdown capabilities following several tragic shooting incidents in recent years, and tornado codes suddenly become much more relevant to an integrator called in to put access control on a classroom or hallway door where that location may also need to be used as a shelter.
Besides the IBC, other guidance documents that govern tornado shelters are FEMA P361 and FEMA P320, Berger says.
“Some FEMA guidelines mandate a shelter if it is a 911 call center, police department, educational, or healthcare facility,” Youngkin adds. Several exit devices and other electrified locking components are either mandated or not allowed in these situations. For example, electric strikes can’t be used on these openings, and mag locks may or may not be allowed, depending on the AHJ.
While both tornado and hurricane codes require testing as an assembly, tornado codes are especially stringent. “With fire codes you can pick a fire-rated closer and fire rated exit devices and access control trim and put it all together on that rated fire door for a legitimately rated opening,” Roeper says. “But with windstorm products, you can’t do that. The reason is that the structural performance in windstorms is so unique that you really can’t predict the performance and know the interchange of parts and pieces will yield the same performance in a different configuration.”
The testing these assemblies go through to be windstorm rated is extreme for a reason. “The door closer has to be listed as part of the tornado shelter assembly not because it helps the door pass the testing, but because you have to know it won’t separate from the door and become a missile into the shelter space,” Roeper says. “If you are in a building and there is a fire, they tell you to close the door and get out. In a shelter, we tell you to close the door and then stand behind it. If you have 1,000 kids in a school, you have to know you got it right.”
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW NOW
For integrators the key is to get educated and involved early on, the experts advise. “If integrators think they are going to be able to apply any product onto a door that requires power to secure the environment and have it be compliant with FEMA, there is not a chance,” Berger says. “If an integrator is asked to monitor or add access to a perimeter door or one in a corridor being used for storm shelter, they have to make sure they are doing it in a way that doesn’t affect the way it functions as a shelter. Whatever access they are adding can’t impede the ability to convert that door for shelter use or violate any life safety codes. Integrators would do well to make sure that if they are talking about changing the function of an opening they have someone knowledgeable about codes working for them.”
There is a tendency for installers to go in the field and just kind of “make it work,” Weller says. And that can’t be done if the door is a hurricane or tornado shelter rated opening. Knowing the codes is the first step, but doing the proper due-diligence with both the customer and manufacturer can go a long way to avoiding pitfalls.
Make sure any manufacturer you are working with has an offering that does meet the requirements of these codes, Youngkin advises. “If they are going to be installing or touching any of this they need to be well versed in all of these codes, know who the AHJ is and be involved with local organizations. Otherwise it is at their own peril if they are installing to an outdated code or modifying doors in the field. It can create a tremendous liability.
Roeper stresses that windstorm ratings are anything but “business as usual.” They are an all or nothing situation. “That is the one, most important thing for the integrator to understand. They can’t take parts and pieces and create unique solutions, which is usually how they apply their expertise. In this instance you have to look for manufacturers with assembly approvals that are the necessary size, rating and have the appropriate equipment for the application. There is not a menu to pick one from column A and one from column B.”
Ideally the integrator would be engaged early on in a project to ensure that the doors, frames and hardware are all coordinated and factory-prepared for whatever electronics are going to be necessary for the electronic access control system, he adds. “They need to take three steps upstream in the process and say, ‘You are building shelter openings; do any of those need access control?’ If so they need to make sure those are prepped correctly by the manufacturer so that when it comes to the field it is plug and play, not drill and fill.”
This process of looking ahead has an upside, Youngkin says. “It gives the integrator the opportunity to expand their business. Maybe they will be called in to do a school perimeter. If they can come in as an expert and go inside by understanding codes and the need for certain doors and locks to be used, they can be a full consultant for the entire building.”
Even if the area a customer is in doesn’t have a specific code, knowing these solutions are out there and that they may be coming down the pike is a huge advantage, she adds. “It can be the differentiator between company A that is a trunk slammer verses company B that is a forward-looking professional and knows the codes and is engaged with the AHJs.”
Roeper agrees. “There is absolutely an opportunity for the integrator to be a subject matter expert in a consultative sale. They should view this as an opportunity and educate themselves so that when they are in a coastal environment they are able to have that conversation with the owner or architect or whomever and say, ‘You are 300 yards from the shore. May I speak to you about some options you might like to consider about hurricane resistance?’ If they have been well informed they can present themselves in a new and different light and be a knowledgeable source of information.”