Insurance Industry Unveils Massive $40 Million Disaster Research Center

October 20, 2010

A major research arm of the property insurance industry used giant fans to blow down a two-story, Midwestern-styled house yesterday as part of an unveiling ceremony for a massive new research facility in South Carolina.

The Institute for Business & Homes Safety said its new $40 million facility is the only one of its kind in the world: a massive test chamber capable of pummeling at least two-full size houses with wind and rain in an effort to find improvements in building techniques and materials.

“This new lab is a tangible, dramatic, generous demonstration of the property insurance industry’s deep commitment to reducing and preventing losses that disrupt the loves of millions of home and business owners each year, ” said Julie Rochman, IBHS president and CEO. “We are confident that IBHS scientific research will greatly improve residential and commercial design and construction — and we are very excited to get to work.”

In a demonstration for media and industry execs yesterday, IBHS placed two identical houses – one built using conventional framing and techniques and another retrofitted with IBHS-recommended fortifications — inside the chamber. They then blasted the houses with 105, man-sized fans that generated wind speeds in excess of 90 miles an hour – roughly the force of a category three hurricane.

Near the end of the 15-minute test the conventional home the conventional house blew down as it structure failed, while the fortified home had scant damage.

Rochman and the IBHS test team praised the capabilities of the new facility – paid for by dozens of insurers and related companies – to generate new insights and research that will pave the way for safer, more damage resistant homes. Future enhancements to the test facility will test resistance to hail and wind-driven fire and water.

A key interest for the insurance industry: The testing done in South Carolina could pave the way to dramatically lowering natural disaster-related claims, which topped $26 billion in the U.S. last year alone.

The Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI) hailed the center’s opening as “a landmark occasion for property casualty insurers and the millions of American homes and businesses we protect.

“This pioneering research will help protect families and enable consumers to build stronger homes and businesses,” said its president, David Sampson, president and CEO of PCI.

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