Thousands of Barbadian homes and lives could be in danger if Government does not implement mandatory building codes, a respected structural engineer has warned.
According to President of the Barbados Association of Professional Engineers (BAPE), Lieutenant Colonel Trevor Browne, even the weakest of hurricanes could cause tremendous damage if Government fails to enforce the use of certain techniques and materials in construction.
While the Barbados National Standards Institution (BNSI) has long established a “pretty good” building code, it currently only serves as a guideline and according to BAPE’s president opens the floodgate for substandard houses.
“In almost every other place in the world, homes are built with an established code and based on that, you would understand that a building which is built to a particular code would withstand a certain hurricane situation, especially with regard to wind,” he said.
“We have never had that in Barbados. We have a code, but never a law saying that people have to adhere to the code. So essentially people build, as they like. So the only way to know how we would fare in a hurricane is if one comes. But it is unlikely that we would do very well,” the BAPE official said.
At the very least, Browne believes greater monitoring of building techniques would allow authorities to know what percentage of Barbadian houses would be safe during a storm.
The code provides specific details about how the foundation, roofing, windows, doors and reinforcements should be installed.
According to the engineer, successive Governments have continuously made promises of a mandatory code, the most recent of which were made during the last hurricane season.
“A whole year has passed and this has been going on since the 1980’s and 90’s. It is just a political issue trying to get the politicians to do exactly what most other countries have done by making the code law. I really don’t want to think about what would happen if a hurricane hits Barbadians,” Browne told Barbados TODAY.
“We have been interacting with [Minister of Transport, Works and Maintenance] Dr [William] Duguid and we sent a draft to them, then we found out that nobody could find the draft that we sent so we had to copy and send it again and we haven’t heard anything since that.
“I think they’re all distracted worrying about other things and they’ll only get serious when a hurricane actually comes. They obviously have other priorities, so they have not been able to get this to the top of the pile to get dealt with.”
Efforts to reach Duguid or his junior minister, Peter Phillips were unsuccessful.
Meanwhile, the structural engineer predicted it would take approximately three years to facilitate the structural changes needed to bring Barbadian houses up to standard after a “Building Standards Act” is passed.
Contrary to some concerns, he said the changes would not be very expensive.
“You can install a roof very expensive and it may not be properly installed. So the code is about doing it correctly to face the types of threats we could expect here in Barbados,” Browne added.
While reflecting on a storm the size of Hurricane Dorian which was a category five when it ravaged the Bahamas for days, Browne admitted it would be difficult to avoid destruction.
“I don’t know what you would need for that,” he said.
“Anything over maybe 80 miles per hour puts you outside of the code. To build something that could withstand winds of 200 miles per hour would be much too expensive for most people, but you should at least give yourself a fighting chance.” [email protected]