Floor Collapse at Party Injures 30 Clemson Students
On Sunday morning, a floor collapsed at the clubhouse for the Woodlands Apartments on Old Greenville Highway in Clemson, South Carolina. The fact that dozens of young people were injured is a significant tragedy. Unfortunately, the tragic nature of this incident also extends to the industry that provides the structural building components that frame most buildings.
These framing elements are designed and installed to resist all defined loads, and are approved by building owners and developers for projects of all types, including this one. What is most unfortunate is that this tragedy could have been avoided.
South Carolina has criteria for occupant loading that is mandatory for building officials to review and approve in the plan review process and for building owners to implement through maximum occupancy designation and monitoring.
South Carolina building code/law states the following:
Essentially, this requires building designers to define the maximum number of people expected to be in a given area (generally calculated on a per-square-foot basis) so that area will perform as expected from a structural and serviceability point of view. For example, a common criterion is one person per fifty square feet.
If a room’s maximum occupancy is exceeded and a fire starts, it can be difficult for everyone to get out safely. This is the main reason for this section of the building code. Occupants are very much at risk of being trampled and/or dying in a fire because they cannot get away from a fire fast enough. In addition, if the occupancy maximum is exceeded, room serviceability problems can occur, structural performance problems can occur, and in the worst case scenario, failure due to over load can occur.
It is too early to know what the design loads for the floor in this room were, but we do know what the room, which the Woodlands website labels as “lounge area 1 and 2,” looked like prior to collapse:
Lounge 1 (left) Lounge 2 (right)
This is what it looked like post-collapse:
As the first two images make clear, the Woodlands Apartments property promotes this area as a lounge area for a limited number of students, but as the video below shows, this area was filled with a significant number of students, all dancing in rhythm to the music.
While there is a lot more information that needs to be gathered to know exactly how the failure occurred, preliminary imagery suggests that the number one issue was too many people were allowed into a space not designed for its use that night.