Inspecting high-rise buildings to ensure safety following Florida condo collapse

A high-rise building located in downtown Huntington, West Virginia.
A high-rise building located in downtown Huntington, West Virginia.(wsaz)
Published: Jul. 12, 2021 at 6:12 PM EDT
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HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - While the geography and topography of Appalachia is much different than the Florida coast, building inspections and the integrity of high-rise structures is just as important.

“One of the biggest dangers to any building is water where it shouldn’t be,” said Huntington Fire Marshal Capt. Mat Winters.

Every time you enter a tall building, you want to know it’s built to last and will stand the test of time.

“Cracks like this, this is just a façade, but once you have a crack and you allow water to get in those cracks that’s where you start to have deterioration or problems,” he said.

Each day, Winters is out inspecting building to insure their safety and looking for any life hazards like smoke alarms, fire alarms, exit and egress capacity. But while inside, he’s also working in close connection with the building inspector, notifying them of any cracks or concerns. The building inspector teams up with and electrical and plumbing inspector as well.

He says commercial buildings in the city of Huntington get inspected annually by both the building inspector and the fire marshal.

“A lot of times we’ve already had some history with the building. We’ve been in it, we’ve looked at it, so we can look at our old pictures and see what the changes have been,” Winters said.

He says older buildings constructed before the 1950s are more solid, made mostly of concrete and are based on a solid foundation, but do require more maintenance and upkeep due to age. That includes quick intervention as soon as a problem is discovered.

Examples include The West Virginia building, the Prichard, the Twin Towers buildings on Marshall’s campus.

Newer buildings established after the 1980s are made differently, often using mix construction and can be more challenging. They were created using a separate set of building standards.

In Huntington, the tallest structures in the city reach about 15 stories high.

“Every time you go up in height, you’re increasing the magnitude of the problems: the loads, the torque,” he said.

Major weather events like severe flooding or the ice storm that blew through the area this winter can leave behind lasting effects and damage to a building’s foundation if not caught and corrected.

“Once that water gets down in those cracks and freezes ... as it expands, it can break your joints and break away and create long-term issues, as well,” Winters said. “When we have a flooding event, you’ll notice they’ll cut everything out from the water line down. Make sure everything is nice and dry and repaired.”

He says he will be watching out for the final report regarding the Surfside condo collapse in Florida last month. That document’s finding likely won’t be available for another year and a half and will be provided by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Florida may not have big swings in temperature to contend with like in our region, but they do deal with eroding soil and salt water air. The death toll in that tragedy has risen to 94 as of Monday afternoon.

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