Building of Unique Disaster Research Facility in South Carolina Begins

September 16, 2009

The property/casualty insurance industry today officially broke ground for the building of a disaster safety research center in Chester County, South Carolina.

The Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) said its new lab will have the ability to subject full-sized, 2,000 square foot, one- and two-story homes, light commercial construction and agricultural buildings to a variety of hazards, including realistic Category 3 hurricanes, wind-blown fire (mimicking wildfire embers), and hailstorms.

IBHS says there’s no other center like it in the world.

The primary purpose of this $40 million multi-peril research facility – funded entirely by property insurance companies, reinsurers and brokers – is to identify effective methods of minimizing risk and loss to homes, businesses, and communities resulting from natural disasters.

“When finished next year, this research facility will effectively represent a quantum leap forward for building science,” noted Julie Rochman, IBHS President and CEO.

She said IBHS will be able to a variety of natural catastrophes in a very controlled, repeatable environment. “This will allow us to identify and evaluate various building material and construction techniques and systems in ways that have only been dreamed of by scientists, public policymakers and industry for many years,” she said.

Rochman said that construction of this research center is extremely complex, but it should be completed by spring 2010.

The architect is Odell Associates. Other firms working on the facility include Walter P. Moore (structural engineers), United Engineering Group (mechanical, electrical, and plumbing), and Holder Construction (general contractor).

In addition, Rochman stated, all of IBHS research will be made publicly available, so that consumers and builders will know which products and systems provide the best protection against wind, water, fire and hail. This will be done both by creation of written reports, and via video of the tests that will be shared on the Web.

IBHS utilizes building science to develop real-world approaches to reduce the risks posed by natural disasters and other perils. Events in recent years, including tornadoes, hurricanes and wildfires, have given IBHS researchers opportunities for field work, during which they have learned much about how to better engineer structures against certain risks. There remain, however, knowledge gaps that can be filled only with testing in controlled environments, which the new research center will provide, according to Rochman.

IBHS has installed a Web camera at the construction site, which takes photos every 15 minutes and provides time lapse capabilities to see the progress of the facility’s construction over time. Click here to view the latest photos:

Founding insurance companies and organizations that have made this new facility possible through their financial contributions include: Alfa Insurance, Allstate Insurance Company, American Agricultural Insurance Company, American Family Insurance, American Insurance Association, Amica Insurance, Andover Companies, AAA-The Auto Club Group, AAA Northern California, Nevada & Utah, Auto-Owners Insurance Company, Bankers Insurance Group, COUNTRY Financial, Enumclaw Insurance Group, Erie Insurance, Farm Bureau Mutual Group, Farmers Insurance Group, Florida Farm Bureau Insurance Group, Gen Re, Guy Carpenter, The Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company, HomeWise, Interinsurance Exchange of the Automobile Club, IPCRe Limited, Liberty Mutual Insurance Group, The Main Street America Group, MetLife Auto & Home, Mississippi Farm Bureau Casualty Insurance Company, Munich Re, Munich Re America, National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies, Nationwide Insurance, Norfolk & Dedham Group, OneBeacon Insurance Group, Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, Quincy Mutual, RenaissanceRe Risk Sciences Foundation, South Carolina Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Company, South Carolina Wind & Hail Underwriting Association, State Farm Insurance Companies, Swiss Re, Travelers, USAA, Virginia Farm Bureau Insurance.

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