Caribbean Disaster Mitigation Project
Implemented by the Organization of American States
Unit of Sustainable Development and Environment
for the USAID Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance and the Caribbean Regional Program


Safer Building Toolkit for Credit Unions

This Toolkit was developed by CDMP to assist with the setting up and monitoring of Safe Building Practice Initiatives attached to Home Improvement Loan Programmes in Credit Unions, to assist such institutions in the production of Disaster Resistant Housing.


Overall description of the programme and goals

How to use the Toolkit

Step 1. Design a Programme
Step 2 Training for staff
Step 3 Monitoring and Supervision


I. Training outline for staff
II. Technical handout for staff
III. Checklist
IV. Proposed minimum standard for adoption by the Credit Union
V. Brochure to hand out (not available in online version of this document)
VI. Q's & A's for members to ask of builders
VII. Evaluation forms
VIII. Sources of information

Overall description of the programme and goals

This toolkit is produced as a result of a pilot programme, where, working with two Jamaican Credit Unions, the Caribbean Disaster Mitigation Project introduced safe building practice into the Home Improvement Loans programme that already existed for Credit Union members. During that pilot, lessons were learned and some of the content of this toolkit reflects ideas and ways of working that came out of the pilot. The pilot Programme was carried out by Stephen Hodges, consultant to CDMP.

The goal of the programme is to introduce disaster mitigation and safe building information into the credit union lending process so that the buildings created, refurbished or renovated will survive hazards. The hazards that affect Jamaica are primarily flooding, hurricanes and earthquakes, and the material developed reflects these.

How to use the Toolkit

The contents are to enable anyone organizing a disaster mitigation project in a credit union to:

To do this you will need someone with some technical competence to organize the programme and to carry out the supervision of the details used in the houses that the funds help construct.

Step 1: Design a Programme

One of the key issues and lessons of the pilot programme related to the voluntary nature of what was attempted. Credit staff, not being technical, did not feel able to insist on the borrowers putting in safety measures, as they were voluntary, and therefore optional. They suggested that the credit union adopt a set of technical "Minimum. Standards", the use of which would be a condition for the loan. This would make their task easier, as they could insist on the standards, and in addition there would have to be someone technical to inspect the buildings so that the loan could be disbursed.

Choose whether or not your programme will be voluntary or will have mandatory standards, and if it does, review and submit the Minimum Standards to the board of the Credit Union for adoption.

Step 2: Training for staff

Much of a programme of this nature is raising awareness and commitment to producing safer housing. The credit staff must come "on board" and communicate a concern, as well as the technical issues and brochure to the borrower, that they construct a safe house. If the technical standards are mandatory, they need to explain what is required, and send the minimum standards with the borrower for the attention of the designer or builder.

Step 3: Monitoring and Supervision

Keeping records of information given, numbers of buildings affected and, if the standards are made mandatory, sending supervisory personnel to visit and report on the conformity to the standards set are activities that need organizing. One person should be made responsible for the record keeping, and periodically, preparing a report on how the programme is functioning. Remember, good records will allow the Credit Union to assess after a hurricane or other event how effective the programme has been in safeguarding the property of the members.

The Appendices include information that will assist to carry out these activities:

Appendix I: Training Outline

Credit Unions and Safer Building
Training Programme

Date: ______  Time: ______

Presenter: _________________

  1. Welcome and Introductions (10 minutes)
  2. Overview of the Programme: A role for Credit Unions in Disaster Mitigation (20 minutes)
  3. Explanation of technical issues and information tools (30 minutes)
  4. Questions and Discussion (30 minutes)
  5. Promotion and Publicity: Involving the Credit Union Members (30 minutes)

Appendix II: Technical Handout for Credit Union Staff

Site Dangers

Flooding danger
Is the site you have in a flood prone area? If you don't know, ask someone who has lived in the area for a long time. You may have to find some higher ground, or build a plinth or mound of rolled marl to raise the building out of danger. For existing houses, it may be possible to construct walls to keep out the water.

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Extra high winds
If your site is on top of a hill, or you have a clear view of the sea from which hurricane winds may come, the wind will not be slowed down by the buildings and trees as is normal. You will need to be extra careful about overhangs, porches, and all the connections that hold together the parts of your house.

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Big trees too close
Do you have trees that, if a hurricane blows them down, they could fall on the house? Either trim off the top or, if necessary, cut it down. Cutting the top off a tree makes it much stronger, as the trunk has less foliage to be pushed against by the wind.

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Unsteady ground
If the ground that your foundations are dug in is poorly compacted fill, near a steep slope, or held back by a retaining wall, the soil may subside or move away, taking away support from the house. You must have strong foundations and press on the soil as little as possible. A steel "cage" should be used in the foundation. Use wider than normal foundations to spread the load on the ground.

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Treat the ground that you dig the foundations in with an insecticide that will control termites. They travel through the ground to reach the building, with part of the nest underground. Watch out for trails going up the walls and treat any damage by cutting out the damaged wood, spraying with insecticide, and replacing with pressure treated lumber.

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Strong Foundations
Strong earth movements during earthquakes can crack your house. Soil settlement, tree roots and clay soils will cause movement that can result in cracks. To resist the cracking, always have steel in the foundations, and where the soil is soft, or a mix of soft and hard, or in clay, a steel "cage", with bars at the top and bottom will keep the foundation from breaking.

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Things to Have

A Reinforced House Frame
Make sure that each panel of blockwork and openings such as verandahs are surrounded by reinforced concrete. Stiffeners in the walls, reinforced foundations and belt beams connect together the walls of the house and prevent cracks from opening up the panels. The ban must overlap at the comers at least 18 ins. (450 mm) to prevent them from separating.

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Wallplate holding down the Roof
In a hurricane the roof can lift up off the walls. Do not feel that bent reinforcing bar can hold down the roof to the walls. In a hurricane, the wind shakes and pulls on the roof. This will straighten out the steel and you will lose your roof. Use bolts set into the belt beam to hold down the wallplate, as these will not let go under stress, at a spacing of 3 to 4 ft. (900 - 1200 mm).

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A roof strapped together
To hold down the rafters to the walls when a hurricane is trying to lift them off the roof, you need Hurricane straps (twisted straps), which nail into the side of the rafter and into the side of the wallplate to hold them together. Fit one strap per rafter all round the walls.

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Shortened Overhangs
To lessen the force of the wind under the overhang of the roof, keep the overhangs small less that 18 inches (430 mm). This is particularly important where the roof overhangs the gable, as it is not pointing down and is higher off the ground, where the wind is stronger.

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A Protected Main House
Carports and external verandahs and porches suffer both suction from wind above and pressure from below. They are much more likely to blow away than the rest of ft house. It is wise to separate the roofs of these structures from the main house, to protect it from damage should they fail.

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Pointers for Roofing

Build everything well
Laths have to be nailed to rafters, and the zinc is nailed to them. To hold the zinc down during a hurricane, there need to be many fixings, preferably two nails where the lath cross the rafter. The laths should be spaced at 2ft 6 inches or closer to share the holding down of the zinc above. It is recommended that 1 x 4 inch laths are used (not 1 x 3), so that the two nails can be used.

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Nail zinc well
Fix zinc down with nails or drivescrews, using one every other corrugation along the edge of the roof, and one every three in the centre of the roof. Where the edge of the zinc overhangs at a gable end, fix it at every corrugation, as the zinc will try to roll up starting from the edge.

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Use good sheeting
If the sheeting is too thin, it will tear off the nails or screws holding it down. Use 26 Camp zinc sheeting (as specified as the minimum in the Building Code), not the thinner 29 or 30 gauges. When using aluminum, which is softer than steel, use 22 gauge. If you have to usee sheeting, use nails at closer spacing to provide more fixing down.

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Appendix III: Technical Checklist for Staff

Building Loans, points to consider

[  ] Is the site prone to flooding?

[  ] Is the site exposed to high winds?

[  ] Are there big trees close to the building?

[  ] Is the ground made of fill, or near a slope or retaining wall?

[  ] Have the foundations been treated for termites?

[  ] Will the foundations have steel in them?

[  ] Will there be stiffeners and all blockwork framed by reinforced concrete?

[  ] Will there be bolts to hold down the wallplate?

[  ] Will there be hurricane straps to hold down the rafters?

[  ] Will the overhangs be less than 18 inches (450 mm)?

[  ] Will carports and external porches be separated from the main structure?

[  ] Will laths be spaced at 2 ft 6 inch (750 mm) or less?

[  ] Will zinc be fixed with drivescrews or with zinc nails every other corrugation, at the edge?

[  ] Will the thickness of the zinc be 26 gauge?


Appendix IV: Minimum Standards for Siting and Construction under the Home Improvement Loan Programme

The following are standards designed to ensure housing that is able to resist hazards such as hurricanes and flooding. They do not remove obligations to construct using conditions of the national building code, but are in addition to the requirements under the code. Generally, code provisitions will ensure resistance to earthquakes, providing that they are followed and that standards for concrete quality and reinforcement bar overlaps are met.


  1. Site is checked to see that it is not in a flood prone area, or special design precautions have been made to elevate building above historic flood levels.
  2. Site is checked to see that it is not on filled ground, is not on a potential landslide, or special design provisions have been made by competent persons to allow safe construction.
  3. Site is checked to see that large trees do not endanger the construction due, or building is relocated on site to remove the danger.


  1. Foundation is dug to minimum depth of 18" (450mm) in good ground or to below poor ground or fill
  2. Foundation trenches to be treated with termite treatment solution ("Demon TC" or similar)
  3. All foundations to contain longitudinal steel and, if in poor ground, a reinforcing cage with top and bottom steel with stirrups

Design and detail of roofing

  1. Carports, patios and verandahs are sparated structurally from the main building
  2. Overhangs are less than 18" at eaves and gables unless special provision is made.
  3. Roof is hip or gable shaped, with pitch at least 22 degrees (or 1 in 4)
  4. All timber used in roofing will be pressure treated lumber or otherwise treated against termite attack.
  5. Wall plate to be held down by 1/2 " (12mm) bolts spaced at least at 4ft (1200mm) centres or other approved method.
  6. Rafters will be secured by twisted metal hurricane straps, on per rafter, or other approved method.
  7. Rafters will be at maximum spacing of 2 ft 6 in (750mm).
  8. Every second pair of rafters will be connected against separation by collar ties or approved straps at the ridge.
  9. Laths will be minimum section 1x4 inch (25x100mm) set at maximum spacing of 2 ft 6 in (750mm) and secured with two nails at each rafter intersection.
  10. Steel-based sheeting to be at least 26 gauge thickness
  11. Aluminum-based sheeting to be at least 22 gauge thickness
  12. Sheeting is nailed at every corrugation at gables, every second corrugation at eaves and ridge, and every third in the center of the roof.
  13. Sheets are fixed with dome-headed sheeting nails using timber fillets as spacers, drive screws with washers or with bolts and washers.
  14. Ridge is capped and attached with the nails used to attach roof sheeting.

Appendix 5: Brochure

The brochure is not included in the online version of this report.

Appendix 6: Questions and Answers for the Builder

Minimum Standards Questions for Siting and Construction

The following questions should be asked of your Builder:


1. Is the building in a flood-prone area, and if so is it elevated sufficiently above potential flooding? Yes No
2. Are there big trees close to the building that could do damage in an earthquake or hurricane? Yes No
3. Is the building on fill, or near a slope or retaining wall? Yes No


1. Are carports, patios and verandahs separated structurally from other buildings? Yes No
2. Are overhangs less than 18" (450mm) at eaves and gables? Yes No


1. Is the minimum depth of foundations 18" (450mm) in good ground or dug to below level of fill? Yes No
2. Have the foundation trenches been treated for termites? Yes No
3. Do the foundations have longitudinal steel in them and, if in poor ground, have top and bottom steel with stirrups? Yes No


1. Are walls built with Yes No


1. Are the bolts to hold down the wallplate set into the belt beam (and not bent reinforcing bar)? Yes No
2. Are there hurricane straps to hold down each rafter to the wallplate? Yes No
3. Are laths spaced at 2ft 6in (750mm) or less? Yes No
4. Is zinc fixed with drivescrews or with zinc nails every other corrugation at the edge and at every corrugation over the gable end? Yes No
5. Is the zinc used at least 26 gauge thickness? Yes No

Appendix VII: Evaluation Form

This form is particularly for Programmes where there is an adopted technical standard and, therefore, some form of technical inspection. Where there is no inspection requirement, it is more difficult to keep records of what has been done with the safe building information alone.

Period covered: ________________

1. Number of clients to whom information has been distributed:  
2. Number of buildings using loan programme presently:  
3. Number of houses with completed construction, inspected and full loan disbursed during period:  
4. Cumulative total of houses strenghtened to date:  
5. Number of features from information taken into account and supervised:  
6. Any additional features that should be included in the technical standards:  
7. Any requirements that are causing difficult for builders to comply with:  
8. Total number of builders used to date:  

Appendix VIII: Sources of Information in Jamaica

Additional sources of information on Disaster Mitigation, Hazards, Safe Building Practices and Training of builders:

The Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management
12 Camp Road
Kingston 4
Tel: 876 928 5111-4 | Fax: 876 928 5503

Construction Resources and Development Centre (CRDC)
11 Lady Musgrave Ave
Kingston 10
Tel: 876 978 4061 | Fax: 876 978 4062

Caribbean Disaster Mitigation Project
Organization of American States/Unit of Sustainable Development and Environment
1889 F Street NW
Washington DC 20006
Tel: 202 458 3006 | Fax 202 458 3560

CDMP home page: Project Contacts

Page Last Updated: 20 April 2001