Commercial warehouses not required to build 'hard-sheltered' safe rooms for large groups of workers

Amazon: Warehouses have 'safe areas'
Amazon warehouse in Edwardsville, IL after a tornado hit the building Friday.
Posted at 6:43 PM, Dec 13, 2021

CINCINNATI — The partial collapse of a massive Amazon warehouse in Edwardsville, Illinois is renewing concerns about the need for "safe rooms" that can protect hundreds of employees during a tornado.

The tornado that hit the Illinois warehouse Friday collapsed much of the building, killing six people.

"They're designed with the same building code that's for your house, so I wouldn't expect them to do anything but fail like this when hit by a tornado," said Tim Marshall, an engineer and meteorologist with Haag Engineering in Dallas, TX.

Marshall said big commercial warehouses with hundreds of employees on the floor at the same time aren't required to provide "hardened" safe rooms for their workers' protection during a tornado.

"These warehouses need to consider having safe rooms, which are hardened areas that are in the building that can withstand not only the building collapsing, but maybe vehicles in the parking lot coming in," Marshall said.

Marshall said he had spent the last two days inspecting tornado-damaged buildings in western Kentucky for the National Weather Service and the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Amazon has a warehouse hub operation at CVG airport. In a statement to the I-Team, Amazon said, "Like all our Amazon buildings, KCVG has areas in the building designated as severe weather shelter areas. At KCVG, the Air Hub is constructed with hardened concrete mezzanines within the core of the building, which provide shelter from a roof collapse and debris. The designated shelter areas can easily accommodate 2,000+ people."

University of Cincinnati Engineering Professor James Swanson agreed these warehouses should have safe rooms, but he said the cost of making the entire building strong enough to survive a tornado may be unrealistic.

Swanson said if current building codes are followed, workers should be protected from all but the most extreme storms.

"The highest winds that we would see in the state of Ohio, for example, are in the order of 70-80 miles an hour and we design for 105," Swanson said. "I think the codes are fairly well-developed in this case and I feel like they're appropriate."

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