Illinois lawmakers push for storm shelters in warehouses after deadly tornado

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EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. – There’s a new call from Illinois lawmakers to make buildings safer after a tornado killed six workers at an Amazon warehouse in Edwardsville on Dec. 10.

Amazon still plans to resume operations at the site once the warehouse is rebuilt, according to a company spokeswoman.

It’s unclear when that might be, and it’s unclear if this rebuilt warehouse would include a “real” storm shelter that would have withstood the tornado. It could include one, and overall it wouldn’t cost that much.

National Storm Shelter Association (NSSA) tests show a 2×4 piece of lumber traveling at 100 miles per hour completely demolishing a standard door. The same tests using a reinforced storm shelter door show impact damage to the door, but the door remains structurally intact. The difference can save lives. Yet in the “town” of warehouses surrounding the Amazon building in Edwardsville, which has no basement due to a high water table, there is no requirement for “ready-to-use” storm shelters. tornadoes”.

“They’re using their restrooms or their indoor offices that they considered ‘refuge areas’ (like storm shelters),” NSSA Director Jim Bell said. “These are not tornado shelters. They will not protect you.

Illinois Governor JB Pritzker asked about storm shelters and basements during his Dec. 13 site visit. Winds of 155 mph at a time when snow was more likely.

Illinois State Representatives Katie Stuart and Jay Hoffman, who represent the region and visited the site with the governor, are now pushing for change. The Amazon building is in the Stuart district.

Hoffman and Stuart are members of the House Labor and Committee.

Both attended an online hearing on the issue of warehouse storm safety this week. Stuart read a letter from Edwardsville Fire Chief James Whiteford to the committee.

“This tornado highlights the need to review and likely modify building requirements for large warehouses,” Whiteford wrote.

Experts representing the warehouse industry, labor unions, the NSSA and even the US Department of Commerce joined the hearing. They talked about adopting the International Code Council’s “ICC 500” code to require storm shelters for so-called “tilting” buildings where 40-foot-tall precast concrete walls are sloped from the ground and attached to a roof. No one doubted the quality of their construction.

“Tilt-up buildings or pre-engineered structures, in general, aren’t designed to withstand tornadoes — but it’s not about the union guys who built the buildings,” said Randy Harris, Midwest Region Manager. of the Labourers-Employers Cooperation and Education Trust. (LECET). “Hopefully we can figure some things out and protect workers at these sites as we move forward and make sure everyone gets to work and comes home safe.”

Bell told the committee that the warehouses were only built to withstand 90 mph winds. He said shelters built to the ICC-500 code have never failed in real-world testing or events, even in the face of the most catastrophic EF-5 tornadoes. They can be built for a fraction of overall construction costs, Bell said.

“Typically, when you’re constructing a new building, the area you’re going to harden to make it a safe room costs about 30% more for that section,” he said.

According to the NSSA, costs range from $10,000 to $80,000 depending on the number of people to be protected in an emergency. This would add well under 1% to the cost of a typical $25-50 million warehouse.

At the end of the hearing, Stuart addressed the loved ones of the six who died, saying: ‘We just want you to know that our thoughts are always with you as you deal with this. We can’t stop tornadoes, but hopefully we can do what we can to stop the loss of life and keep people safe.

“There’s nothing we can do,” she later told FOX 2 News. “We have to do something. We cannot have another tragedy like this.

“The question here is, can you develop a statewide policy that makes everyone safer and learn from this terrible, terrible tragedy? What I hear is that there weren’t really enough areas or really safe spaces for workers (in the Amazon warehouse),” Hoffman said.

The warehouse industry has tripled in the St. Louis area in recent years, economists say. So Missouri faces the same problem, Hoffman said.

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