How collaboration and communication build safer communities.

Greg Kopp

Lead researcher, Northern Tornadoes Project | Professor, Civil & Environmental Engineering, Western University
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An EF2 tornado is considered to be relatively weak. But when it comes to tornadoes, even a ‘weak’ one means it packs a wicked wallop.

With wind speeds of 180 to 220 kilometres an hour, an EF2 tornado has enough strength to rip the roof off your house.  

But there is some good news. First, Western University's Greg Kopp, lead researcher for the Northern Tornadoes Project (NTP), says 95 per cent of tornadoes are classified as EF2 or lower. And second, Greg and his fellow engineers have ways to reduce the destruction tornadoes cause.

“In Canada, roofs are designed for heavy snow loads, so they’re already pretty strong. But a tornado will want to lift the roof off the house and the house off the foundation. So, we want to make sure the roof is fastened to the walls. And that’s quite easy to do with hurricane straps – small, inexpensive metal straps that connect the roof to the walls and the walls to the foundation.”

Greg and his colleagues have tested the technology at the ‘3 Little Pigs’ Project lab. And they’ve proven the relatively simple hurricane strap technology is remarkably effective in, at least, minimizing damage to a house. That, however, is for new houses. It’s possible to install hurricane straps in existing homes, but with all the cutting through drywall and other interior disruption, the process becomes much more expensive.  

“We always have to deal with managing cost and managing risk,” says Greg, also a professor in the department of civil and environmental engineering.

“Tornadoes and extreme weather cause massive destruction, and that results in the massive cost of rebuilding. The better move is to ensure people’s safety by using measures like hurricane straps to lessen destruction in new and old homes and to continue to investigate ways to install the technology at lower cost.”

Greg

ʼs
Impact
Principles

  • Affecting change can take a long time, but don’t lose focus.
  • Policy change is not quick or simple – but it will spread the impact far and wide.
  • You can’t do it alone – collaboration is key.

NTP researchers have discovered that the incidence of tornadoes in certain locations in Canada and the US is changing – heightening the need for tools that can make houses stronger.

In Canada, there have been fewer tornadoes in the Prairies and more in Ontario and Quebec. “The bulk of Canada’s population is in Southern Ontario. So, we’re seeing severe weather move into a place where there are more people, and that’s not going to be good.” That’s why Greg collaborates with other engineers, builders and municipalities to change building codes and ensure tornado-resistant technology is in place to protect our homes.  

A big part of Greg's work is not just uncovering the information about tornadoes but telling people about it. He’s a frequent media commentator, an engaging TED Talks speaker, and he regularly speaks to government and building industry professionals about the dangers of tornadoes and the engineering that can stand up to them. And, perhaps most importantly, he teaches hundreds of students at Western every year.  

For Greg to make an impact, he needs to be able to convey his message clearly.

“Because it’s not just about your ability to do research, but how you communicate with people. As a teacher, I’m disseminating all this knowledge to students who then take it forward. And it’s a two-way dialogue. They ask questions, and our discussion always leads to better outcomes for everyone. Communication is essential.”

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