The insurance industry is doing its best to create a tempest in a teapot.
On Tuesday, the industry-funded Institute for Business & Home Safety will open a facility that breaks new ground in the world of disaster labs: replicating hurricane conditions on a large scale.
The $40 million research center, set on 90 acres in Richburg, S.C., features a massive test chamber as tall as a six-story building that can hold nine 2,300-square-foot homes on a turntable. Those homes can be subjected to tornado-strength winds generated by 105 giant fans. Mix in water from the 750,000-gallon tanks, and researchers can simulate Category 3 hurricanes.
IBHS's new facility will give insurers the ability to carefully videotape what happens as powerful winds blow over structures. In the past, researchers largely relied on wind data from universities or computer simulations and rummaged through damage zones or photographed them from helicopters.
Property and casualty insurers are looking to reduce their risk on the $9 trillion in U.S. property exposed to hurricanes from Texas to Maine. Insured catastrophic losses were $7.9 billion in the first half of 2010, up $200 million from 2009, according to the Insurance Information Institute in New York.
The new IBHS lab will be the first to replicate hurricanes with winds channeling water through homes and ripping off roofs, doors and windows. The center can also replicate wild fires. "We can throw embers into the channel and introduce them into the wind field much like a wild fire," said Joseph King, a spokesman for the IBHS.
If you watch the video, they state that the difference between getting blown away and standing firm is $5,000 in improvements. Amazing.