Insurers to Build Research Center for Natural Disaster Property Losses

April 22, 2008

A new state-of-the-art applied research facility will use science and technology to expand capabilities to create more durable homes and businesses and reduce the human, financial and societal costs of natural disasters.

The Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS), an insurance industry-supported nonprofit engineering and communications group, will construct the Insurance Center for Building Safety Research with funds from its insurer and reinsurer members.

The center will feature full-scale testing of buildings and construction components. IBHS said a two-track research program will address catastrophic issues, such as high winds and wind-driven water intrusion, earthquakes and hail, as well as more isolated, but expensive, maintenance-related issues like plumbing system failure and interior fires.

The findings will be used in consumer education and advocacy campaigns, and to supply data to developing public policies in areas such as building codes and land use.

“Unfortunately, more people and property are in harm’s way in this country than ever before,” said Julie Rochman, IBHS president and CEO. “Mother Nature reminds us daily that we have to find ways to better protect the places where we live and work — and we will have greatly increased capacity and capability to do that through the new insurance industry research center.”

She said the center’s first priority will be to examine roofing performance issues. IBHS estimates that damage to the roofing system is present in as much as 95 percent of properties that suffer wind and water-related losses. The result is repair or replacement of millions of roofs every year.

“Roof failures and the damage done by water that can get in afterward can be a major headache and huge expense,” said Dr. Timothy Reinhold, IBHS vice president and director of engineering, who will lead the center’s research team. “But with more realistic test methods and better knowledge about variables such as installation differences and how aging affects the performance of roof systems, we could save lots of money and aggravation.”

Reinhold noted that “property owners should quickly reap the benefits of this research, since roofs are the most frequently replaced component of buildings.” He added that existing research shows that each dollar spent on disaster mitigation saves society an average of four dollars.

The center will also work with existing facilities and other researchers, according to Reinhold. IBHS is already working with the University of Colorado and Pennsylvania State University on wildfire risk reduction research and risk modeling that is nearing completion, he said. “And we are supporting earthquake research being done by the California Institute of Technology and University of California, Los Angeles.”

IBHS is also working with the University of Florida, Florida International University and private laboratories on wind-driven water intrusion research.

Reinhold said the center “will also foster a broader understanding of what can be accomplished with sustainable construction by providing training to builders, building officials, architects, engineers, insurance personnel and others with a professional interest in the field.”

IBHS is currently evaluating several potential sites for the center, which it anticipates will require about a 100-acre parcel. Selection criteria include a mild climate to allow for year-round research activities as well as access to significant amounts of electricity through a plant or substation. Construction is scheduled to begin later this year.

Supporting IBHS member companies and insurance organizations currently include American Family Insurance, American Modern Insurance Group, Amica Mutual Insurance Co., Auto Club Insurance Association, Auto-Owners Insurance Group, Bankers Insurance Group, Benfield, COUNTRY Financial, Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Co., Farmers Insurance Group, The Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Co., HomeWise Insurance Co., Liberty Mutual Insurance Co., MetLife Auto & Home, Munich Reinsurance America, National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies, Nationwide Insurance, OneBeacon Insurance Group, Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, RenaissanceRe Holdings, South Carolina Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Co., State Farm Fire and Casualty Co., Swiss Re America, Travelers and USAA.

Source: IBHS

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