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SEAKM Holds Informative Seminar on Building Collapses in Wake of Joplin Tornado

On June 29th, the Structural Engineers Association of Kansas & Missouri (SEAKM) held their monthly meeting on the Kansas University, Edwards Campus in Overland Park, KS.  The presenter for this meeting was Thomas F. Heausler, P.E. and his topic was Structural Damage to Buildings due to the May 22, 11 Tornado in Joplin, MO.

Due to the sudden increase of attention on Tilt-Up construction in the wake of this tragic weather event, TCA Technical Director, Jim Baty, attended this seminar along with TCA member and engineer Karen Hand of Needham & Associates and TCA promotion partner, Christy Martin of the Concrete Promotions Group of Kansas City.  This strategic opportunity to understand greater detail and the severity of the widespread damage to the city of Joplin was determined a priority for the TCA to further prepare a new task force on storm impact.

Mr. Heausler is an experienced engineer that was brought to Joplin to investigate a particular structure.  After completing his investigation work, he remained another two days to serve the public through the S.A.V.E. Coalition; a team of engineers trained and authorized to investigate the integrity of structures impacted by severe events.  During the hour-long presentation, Heausler demonstrated a variety of failure mechanisms in each type of structure represented in the community as well as some of the conditions that were consistent with predicted failure analysis.  In all, more than 6,000 structures were damaged or destroyed by this storm that reached the maximum designation for tornados on the Enhanced Fujita scale (EF-5).

TCA staff was sent to this event to provide further support for the industry in the wake of the storm damage and to answer any questions that may have arisen on the nature of Tilt-Up buildings. “It was a compelling presentation.” Christy Martin stated.  “Mr. Heausler’s first hand pictures and eyes-on-the-ground experience added impact and engineering rational to much of the devastation.  The audience of mainly engineers, were very interested and in some cases amazed.” Specific damage to structures commonly identified as “box building systems” was identified in the form of steel decking failures at weld points and failures of steel bar joist seat welds to steel girders.  In the path of the highest sustained winds from this storm, no structure remained in a serviceable condition.  At the conclusion of the seminar, Mr. Heausler left those in attendance with an itemized list of the failure issues he evidenced and to which engineers in the future can focus on.

This list in descending value of significance began with uplift that exceeded what he believed to be rationale design force.  It also then included weld performance for which he suggested a few remedies, including designing for prying action on the joist seat welds; connections of joists in structural steel roof systems; lack of in-plane damage to hard wall systems; loss of gravity connections (roof diaphragm) to hard wall systems; and finally, no evidence of wall failure.

The TCA has convened a task force under the direction of TCA founding member Jeff Needham of Needham & Associates to continue investigating the performance of Tilt-Up and box buildings from this storm and others on record.  This task force seeks to find evidence of areas where all in building design and construction can continue improving the resistance to such devastating events. One of the immediate efforts of this task force is to promote the opportunity for Mr. Heausler to give this same presentation during the upcoming TCA Annual Convention in Kansas City, MO this fall.

TCA was founded in 1986 to improve the quality and acceptance of site cast Tilt-Up construction, a construction method in which concrete wall panels are cast on-site and tilted into place. Tilt-Up construction is one of the fastest growing industries in the United States, combining the advantages of reasonable cost with low maintenance, durability, speed of construction and minimal capital investment. For more information about the TCA, visit

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TILT-UP TODAY, a publication of the Tilt-Up Concrete Association, is THE source for Tilt-Up industry news, market intelligence, business strategies, technical solutions, product information, and other resources for professionals in the Tilt-Up industry. A subscription to TILT-UP TODAY is included in a TCA membership. Subscriptions for potential TCA members are also available. If you would like to receive a complimentary subscription to the publication, please contact the TCA.