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When In Doubt: Get Out!

Cranston- Numerous media advisories have called attention to the threat of roof collapse caused by accumulating snow and ice. The combination of snow and ice have created weight load on roofs that may exceed the design limitations of some structures.

State, local and private subject matter experts met at Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency headquarters yesterday to collaborate on the concerns about existing conditions on rooftops and to review mitigation strategies.

A highly trained and specialized group of architects and structural engineers who make up the Task Force 7 element of our Rhode Island Urban Search & Rescue Team (USAR), the Task Force Leader of the USAR team, RIEMA operations and planning cadre, FEMA R1 Liaison, RI State Building Commissioner, RI Department of Administration Executive Director and Chief of Facilities, and a member of the Governor’s staff all met to review immediate and strategic recommendations.

The experience of these specialists include assessments of conditions at hundreds of buildings around the state not limited to schools, health care facilities, and state buildings. Each day we are experiencing the collapse or partial collapse of various structures that so far has not resulted in any serious injury or loss of life.

Current building codes and load limitations were reviewed. A load of 30 pounds per square foot is the code standard by which contemporary structures are built.


Drifted snow on top of a low roof and against a different level of the same building are areas that require attention and mitigation. Building occupants cannot become complacent if there is a crack or sound that indicates some type of failure. Call in the local building inspector or other expert to assess the cause and damage immediately. When in doubt: Get out!

The single most important preventative measure that any business or home owner can take is to insure proper drainage from the roof. Make sure that the drainage system is clear of debris and flowing freely. Many flat roofs have roof drains on the perimeter and at various locations across the roof. Experts recommend that the drains have at least ten feet of cleared space around each of them with drainage trenches extending outward in all directions. This will allow the free flow of melting liquid or subsequent rain. It is important to homeowners to safely clear gutters and downspouts of ice, debris, and snow.

Please ensure that when clearing snow on a flat roof surface that shoveled snow does not accumulate in a different location and/or pile up against any HVAC equipment that could lead to carbon monoxide back up into the building.

The group agreed that our greatest concern was the safety of anyone who may be attempting to clear the roof. Homeowners should be mindful of the risk of personal injury to themselves and occupants before removing snow from roofs. If you can do it safely clear your roof drains. A contractor could be helpful in assessing the need for snow removal. While some snow can be removed from the ground level, individuals need to be mindful of the risk of personal injury to themselves and occupants before removing snow from roofs. Do not attempt to go on your roof to remove snow unless you are completely sure it is safe to do so, especially if you have a pitched roof. Additionally, home and business owners would be well served to have a contractor or structural engineer assess their roofs before venturing out onto them.


Additional resources to reference in roof clearing can be found at:

Rhode Island Building Code Commission

State of RI Building Code Commission, Staff Contact information

Local Building Inspectors Contact Information

Job Site Resources: OSHA Job Site Safety Handbook including Working on Roofs

OHSA Safety and Health Topics-Fall Protection

If you need assistance please contact your local EMA director.

In case of emergency call your fire department by dialing 911.

Rhode Island Urban Search and Rescue Task Force:

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