Tornado Panels Withstand Extreme Weather Events

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Wednesday, July 22nd, 2015
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A new form of lightweight panel promises to safeguard home occupants from flying debris during extreme weather events such as tornados, monsoons and storms.

Researchers from the University of Alabama Birmingham have developed a new form of ultra-resilient “tornado panel” for home installation that is capable of resisting the impacts of flying debris during extreme weather events.

According to Uday Vaidya, professor and chair of UAB’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering, the tornado panels are made from thermoplastic and fibreglass resins, some of which are employed by the US military for their most advance military vehicles.

Their unique material composition confers them with greater strength per-unit density than the steel that is employed for many hurricane shelters in North America, while weighing approximately 80 per cent less.

“The UAB panels are unique in comparison to the other products I’ve seen used in that they are lightweight, similar to plywood, but they have the strength equivalent to steel,” said David Cooper, president of Cooper Structural Engineers.

The panels have already passed the rigours of official testing, with the US National Storm Shelter Association certifying that they are capable of withstanding an EF5 hurricane.

“To see panels pass our most extreme test the first time is very impressive,” said Larry Tanner, manager of the NSSA/ Texas Tech Debris Impact Test Facility. “This material is lightweight and sustainable and looks to have a bright future in the storm-shelter industry.”

Professor Vaidya has collaborated with Storm Resistant Systems and Cooper Structural Engineers to adapt the panels for usage in residential homes, employing them in the creation of a safe room in a new house in the Montgomery, Alabama area.

The safe room consists of a steel frame that can be dismantled for storage in a smaller space prior to reassembly. Once erected the steel frame is used to house the light, yet ultra-strong panels.

The panels are attached to each other as well as the room floor, in order to keep occupants secure from the flying debris caused by cyclones and hurricanes.

““During a tornado or hurricane you can get a lot of two-by-fours flying in a home – a lot of debris is picked up and it can actually penetrate inside a house,” said Vaidya.

“People die from the debris that comes through walls or other things, so we built panels that would resist the debris completely.”

In addition to their light-weight and resilience, the panels possess the standard appearance of interior walls and do not require painting or coating for corrosion-proofing.

“The surface could be made to look really any way you want,” said Vaidya. “They could be tailored in any way a homeowner is interested in, and could be integrated into a room in an existing home or brought in as part of a new construction.”

The creation of the panels follows four years of research of development, prompted by heavy storms that devastated large parts of Alabama back in 2011.

Products like tornado-proof panels could soon see far greater demand in many parts of Australia, given the need for heightened building resilience to deal with the more extreme weather conditions caused by climate change.

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