Advanced glazing solutions stand up to Tornadoes

The recently rebuilt Mercy Hospital in Joplin Missouri takes advantage SentryGlas® interlayers in many of its glazed elements, following the near total destruction of the original hospital by a tornado in 2011. The impact glazing system for the new hospital was supplied by Architectural Wall Systems. Photo: © courtesy and copyright Mercy Hospital, Joplin
The University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital, in Iowa City adapted its glazing design at the planning stage due to the damage seen as a result of the 2011 Joplin Tornado. Photo: © Justin Meyer | Photography by Meyer

Tornadoes can be devastating, but with certified architectural glazing in place, huge amounts of damage can be mitigated leading to less costly clear ups.

Mother Nature has an uncanny ability to quickly − and sometimes destructively − highlight flaws in building designs; from simple leaky roofs in a rain shower through to full building collapses bought about by severe weather events, such as tornadoes or hurricanes.

Designing for these major weather events is a balancing act. Architects and structural engineers have to keep one eye on the day-to-day use of the building and the other on the safety of the occupants should a major weather event occur. This is especially important for high-occupancy buildings, such as schools and hospitals and those that are essential to emergency efforts in the event of a storm, such as police stations, fire stations and emergency-response centers.

The easy answer is to create a building akin to a totally sealed, in-house safe room, but this does nothing for aesthetics, “curb appeal” and the negative psychology of living and working in such an enclosed environment.

The obvious answer to increase the visual and psychological appeal of a building, both internally and externally, is to deploy glazing; but ordinary glazing is simply not up to the job. Glazed openings are widely documented as significant weak points in buildings, especially in regards to tornadoes and it is only in recent years that glazing technology using laminated glass has been introduced that is capable of standing up to the rigors of even an EF5 category tornado.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in the US paints a sobering picture of what architects and glazing engineers are up against. “A tornado is a violently rotating column of air extending from a thunderstorm to the ground. The most violent tornadoes are capable of tremendous destruction, with wind speeds of 250 mph or more. Damage paths can be in excess of one mile wide and 50 miles long. In an average year, 800 tornadoes are reported nationwide. Every state is at some risk from this hazard.

“Compared with hurricanes and earthquakes, single tornado events typically affect smaller geographical areas but occur more often and cause more deaths. From 1950 through 2011, tornadoes caused about 5,600 fatalities in the United States, more than hurricanes and earthquakes combined over the same time period.”


  • Hurricane/Tornado/Typhoon Protective Glazing
  • Facades & Curtain Walls


  • USA + Canada


  • SentryGlas®

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