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  • Danielle Hess

Experts’ tips for building storm-resilient hotels

Owners of hotels in areas prone to hurricane damage can ensure their properties are more storm-resilient by following a plan and making updates beyond minimum code requirements, experts said.

Hotels in coastal cities play an important role in housing evacuees, first responders and insurance adjusters when a hurricane hits, which is why it’s critical for owners to build and update hotels that can withstand storms.

Doug Smith, president and principal at landscape and architecture firm EDSA, said designing a resilient hotel infrastructure starts with creating a site plan “that respects the natural protection systems of coastal sites, namely the primary dune systems.”

For example, dunes help “dissipate wave energy from storm surge” and “stabilize beaches and associated coastal vegetation,” he said.

EDSA builds with landscape and hardscape materials that can withstand the “everyday corrosive nature of a coastal environment” and have a better chance of surviving a tropical storm or hurricane.

“Other considerations include water use and conservation strategies such as re-tooling buildings to provide greater water storage capacities,” Smith said. “We work hard to blend functional needs with aesthetically pleasing design elements such as garden walls for ground floor guestrooms that function for guest privacy while also providing a level of protection for ground floor units from high winds and storm surges.”

Hurricane preparedness Hotels need to have an emergency response plan to get through hurricane season, said Chuck Miccolis, managing director of commercial lines at the Insurance Institute for Business Home & Safety. That plan should start with the roof and work its way down.

The off season is a good time to make roof repairs and check the sealed roof deck, he said.

“If you lose your shingles or you lose your tiles, you have your roof deck that is sealed with inexpensive tape (that) protects against water infiltrating into the building, which is a big aspect of reducing losses to the building,” he said.

Going beyond code Hurricanes Iniki and Andrew slammed into Florida and Kauai, Hawaii, in 1992, which triggered code upgrades in the U.S., said James Freeman, founding member of FSC Architects.

Those codes do a good job of protecting the welfare of structures, but the issue is older hotels don’t have to adhere to those codes until it’s time for a major renovation, he said.

Older structures will be brought up to the minimum code after undergoing a renovation, but owners can go beyond code to better protect their hotels, Freeman said.

Hotels need a generator to keep emergency exit lights on and at least one elevator running to meet minimum code, but Freeman encourages clients to invest in a generator large enough to provide 100% power to a hotel and a week’s supply of fuel.

“(Owners) can manage whether (they are) supplying 100% power to the facility and stretching that fuel beyond seven days or using it all up for seven days,” he said. “Usually by that period, if it is that catastrophic, people can be evacuated by then.”

Hotels with sliding glass doors can go beyond the required impact-resistant glazing and upgrade to a stronger system to withstand “a greater degree of water and air filtration, so less water seeps into the floor, the carpet and the walls so there’s less damage,” he said.

Another benefit of the upgraded system is it prevents the sliding glass doors from rattling.

Tropical storm weather might not damage a building, but the rattling of a sliding door that keeps guests up at night “can be a real negative for hotel operations,” he said.

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