Laminated Glass Might Have Saved Lives in the Philippines

There was no stopping one of the most powerful storms ever recorded when it slammed into the Philippines on Friday, leaving thousands dead and displacing millions more.

But the swath of death and destruction from Typhoon Haiyan might have been mitigated at least somewhat had the use of laminated glass been more prevalent in the South Pacific island country, says Rick De La Guardia, president and founder of DLG Engineering Inc.

“Laminated glass is composed of a combination of any of the three standard monolithic glass types – annealed, heat-strengthened and tempered – bonded together by an interlayer,” De La Guardia says. “This is similar to what is used in a car’s windshield and is the typical impact-resistant glass used for hurricane mitigation in glazing systems.”

Typhoon Haiyan barreled ashore with wind gusts of roughly 235 miles per hour (mph) in some places and sustained winds recorded at nearly 200 mph, according to media reports, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake. The death toll had officially climbed to 1,774 as of Tuesday, but that grim figure may rise to as high as 10,000, according to the United Nations.

De La Guardia says any one of three possible scenarios could have played out had laminated glass been in place at the areas hardest hit by the storm. First, the glass could have maintained its integrity and not broken even in the face of the extremely high winds, provided that it was properly shielded from airborne debris. Second, the laminated glass might have shattered due to wind-born debris, but still have protected the integrity of the building envelope because of the interlayer technology that bonds the broken glass together and the structural silicone that bonds the perimeter of the shattered glass to the glazing frame.

Finally, De La Guardia says, the laminated glass could have failed by wind-borne debris penetrating the laminated glass at much higher speeds than designed for or simply being stripped away from the glazing frame to the constant wind-borne debris impacts and continual loading after shattering.

But De La Guardia says that costs constraints are what lead to the many unnecessary deaths in natural disasters such as that in the Philippines. Glass alone cannot serve to exclusively protect buildings and structures, meaning an often costlier, holistic approach that includes the entire building envelope is required.

“The amount of devastation [in the Philippines] certainly could have been mitigated with proper design that includes roof sheathing connections, roof structure tie-downs, exterior wall reinforcing, column and beam integration with the foundation, etc.,” De La Guardia says. “There have been tests done to show the difference that a few relatively inexpensive construction techniques can do to help mitigate damage from a powerful storm.”

The message echoes the statement from the American Institute of Architects (AIA) that not only expressed the organization’s warm thoughts and prayers to those in the Philippines affected by the storm, but also the importance of building safer buildings in the future to avoid tragedies of such grand scale.

“AIA members are passionate advocates for training and education to improve a community’s disaster resilience, response and recovery,” says AIA president Mickey Jacob. “The AIA is committed to sharing resources, knowledge and expertise to help those affected by Typhoon Haiyan’s devastation and rebuild their lives and livelihoods.”

De La Guardia believes that South Florida would have been damaged, but would have fared considerably better overall had a similar storm made landfall there. The heavily-populated area learned its lessons the hard way from Hurricane Andrew in 1992 about the dangers of soft building codes and taking short cuts during construction.

“My optimism,” De La Guardia warns, “does not extend to the other hurricane-prone regions of the U.S. due to lack of awareness regarding necessary code changes and product upgrades.”

Glazing products are available that can withstand such stringent wind forces. The new hospital  being constructed in Joplin, Mo., will feature windows that can stand up to 250 mph winds.

Leave a comment