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By Gene Kennedy, President of Savannah Trims; Riviera Beach, Florida

As super storms become more the norm than the exception, municipalities are well under way with adapting to new building codes and ever-changing flood maps that are altering how commercial and residential structures are built.

There have been voluntary safeguards such as the installation of impact glass and shutters to prevent residents and employees from flying debris and winds. The major changes, however, are mandatory and relate to preventing flood damage to new and renovated commercial properties.

As the threat of flooding increases, so have the technologies that can efficiently meet standards and codes. Today, flood glass has emerged as an effective, permanent, and convenient way to meet the evolving standards and provide safeguards.

This became an issue following Super Storm Sandy which ravaged New York City for more than $19 billion in damages, most of it from flood damage. The damage was widespread as storm surge hit a 600-mile stretch of the Eastern Seaboard. Lower Manhattan’s Battery Park was hit by 14-foot waves. More than 80% of Atlantic City was underwater. Some of the Boardwalk was swept away.

Since Sandy, FEMA has been continually revising flood maps to identify high-risk areas as the basis for establishing codes and insurance premiums. This is a moving target as climate change is causing higher tides and putting individual neighborhoods at risk. While new codes don’t apply to existing commercial buildings, they do govern new construction and renovations which involve improvements of 50 percent of the structure. Architects, engineers, and building owners are adapting to these new regulations which are geared toward “making a building watertight, substantially impermeable to flood waters”.

Most of these improvements are for the ground floors and basements which are most at risk for flooding. As with Sandy, it causes loss of merchandise, damage to mechanical equipment,  and inability of employees/tenants/residents from accessing or evacuating buildings.

New York City is currently implementing a layered approach to flood protection that includes building seawalls, bulkheads, hardening utilities and infra-structure, and installing flood resistant designs.

FEMA (FEMA Sections 102 / 3-93) dictates the levels and strength for adjustments and additions to buildings that include flood gates, flood doors, flood barriers,  and sealed reinforced glass. Flood windows are rapidly becoming a popular option because it is permanent and doesn’t require difficult installation as a storm approaches. They are a convenient and affordable flood protection initiative that when properly installed are compliant with all FEMA standards and codes.

FEMA works in conjunction with the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE /SEI 7-10) and the Army Corp of Engineers (Chapter 7/Section 701.2.2 Type 2 Closures) in developing these constantly changing standards.

The complex issue is that every job – whether it’s flood gates, flood doors, flood barriers,  or glass – is custom designed because criteria can change on a block-by-block basis and these openings are all different, requiring different frames and  window strength. In addition, the protections are based on FEMA’s projections that include:

  • Flood warning time
  • Use of building
  • Floodwater velocities
  • Floodwater depths
  • Debris impact
  • Flood frequency

This research will dictate the height of flood windows and strength, how much water pressure they can withstand, and effectiveness in preventing penetration by floating debris. All of these components are designed, engineered, tested,  and verified in order to secure a Flood Proofing Certificate for Non-Residential Buildings. Other protection criteria includes:

  • Anchoring of the building to resist flotation, collapse, and lateral movement
  • Installation of watertight closures for all doors, windows and openings;
  • Use of membranes and other sealants to reduce seepage of floodwater through walls and wall penetrations
  • Installation of pumps to control interior water levels
  • Installation of check valves to prevent the entrance of floodwater or sewage flows through utilities
  • Location of electrical, mechanical, utility, and other valuable damageable equipment and contents above the expected flood level

The introduction of flood windows represents the continuing evolution of protection. It is similar to hurricane shutters that started with cumbersome wood panels that had to be bolted to outside walls, and eventually to permanent impact glass.

Flood glass is similar in that it is permanent and doesn’t require manpower and installation expertise as a storm and floods approach. As we saw with Super Storm Sandy, those in the path are dealing with many other survival issues. This new product brings a significant level of peace of mind in that businesses can protect inventory and damage will be minimized as flood waters approach.

Gene Kennedy is President of Riviera Beach, Florida-based Savannah Trims, the developer and manufacturer of flood glass. The firm also designs flood barriers, gates, and doors at its 28,000-square foot facility. Savannah Trims has secured numerous commercial buildings in the New York City area, the subway systems, and Port Authority facilities. For more information, visit www.savannahtrims.com.