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Fargo Amazon warehouse built using same design as Illinois facility that collapsed during tornado

Shawn Ouradnik, inspections director for the city of Fargo, said the "tip-up" design style is commonly used and is a "very sound" way of construction.

The exterior of the Amazon Fulfillment Center in Fargo
The Amazon warehouse is seen Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021, in north Fargo.
Michael Vosburg / The Forum

FARGO — The new Amazon warehouse here was built using the same design as one that collapsed during a tornado in Illinois last weekend, killing six employees.

The tornado was part of an outbreak of storms that swept through six states and flattened homes and businesses over a 200-mile path.

Illinois’ governor has questioned whether current building codes are adequate at a time of increasingly dangerous storms, and the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration has opened an investigation into the deaths.

Shawn Ouradnik, inspections director for the city of Fargo, said the type of construction used by Amazon is widely practiced and is adequate to withstand weather events in our area.

“This way of construction is actually very sound,” Ouradnik said.

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The Amazon Fulfillment Center at 3737 44th Ave. N. in Fargo is the largest building in North Dakota and opened in September of this year.

The building encompasses more than 1.2 million square feet and is the size of 22 football fields.

Like many others across the country and other warehouses in North Dakota, it was built using a “tip-up” design, Ouradnik said.

Concrete walls are manufactured off-site to specifications while the building’s foundation is poured, he said, then are brought in on semis and tipped up to stand.

A metal roofing system and steel bar joists are used to secure the walls.

The method is favored because of how quickly it can be done, Ouradnik said, and it meets wind and snow load requirements for the area.

“It’s a fully engineered system,” he said.

There is no building code requirement in this area for additional features pertaining to tornadoes, Ouradnik said, including a designated shelter. Other parts of the country are more prone to tornadoes than the Fargo-Moorhead area.

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It would be up to Amazon to decide whether to include a shelter and certain safety procedures, he said.

The Forum asked Amazon whether the Fargo Fulfillment Center has such safety features.

“When a site is made aware of a tornado warning in the area, all employees are notified and directed to move to a designated and marked shelter-in-place location,” an Amazon spokesperson said in an email.

Ouradnik said the goal in any such situation is to get people to a safe place or out of the facility, if possible.

One criticism surrounding the Amazon collapse in Edwardsville, Illinois, and of a candle factory collapse in Mayfield, Kentucky, was that employees may have been told they couldn’t leave their jobs to seek shelter elsewhere from the storms without facing some kind of penalty or even being fired.

Eight people at Mayfield Consumer Products died when the factory collapsed during the tornado.

Landis Larson, president of the North Dakota AFL-CIO, said it’s a stark reality that some employers don’t care about their workers.

“They need to do a better job of watching out for their employees’ welfare,” Larson said.

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In the case of the Illinois Amazon warehouse collapse, there were 46 people in the building at the time.

Most went to the “take-shelter” location on the building’s north side, where there was only minor damage.

The six who died were on the south end, where the 11-inch-thick concrete walls collapsed inward, according to local news reports.

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker raised the possibility that current building codes aren’t enough to meet the dangers of increasingly devastating storms.

He said there would be an investigation of those codes given the “serious change in climate” being experienced across the country, PBS reported.

Ouradnik said there will be events that occur in Fargo that are outside of the realm of normal conditions.

“In those instances, it is up to the facility to protect the well-being of its occupants,” he said.

Huebner is a 35+ year veteran of broadcast and print journalism in Fargo-Moorhead.
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