Video: New "Disaster Lab" Simulates Hurricanes, Destroys Entire Houses

80beatsBy Andrew MosemanOct 20, 2010 9:13 PM


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The insurance industry's weather simulator is more awesome than your weather simulator. It can hold nine houses, create hurricane-force conditions on its interior via 750,000-gallon tanks of water, and it just opened. The Institute Business & Home Safety, an organization backed by the insurance industry, built the $40 million hangar of destruction in South Carolina.

With an update next year, "we'll shoot hail down from the rafters of the building to simulate hail storms," said Tim Reinhold, senior vice president of research at Tampa-based IBHS. The goal is to improve building codes and maintenance practices in disaster-prone regions. Such labs, insurers say, help reduce their exposure to catastrophic losses—even at a cost of $100,000 for each large hurricane simulation. [Washington Post]

IBHS conducted its first tests yesterday, blasting a normally constructed house and another made of stronger materials with winds stirred up by 105 giants fans.

The conventional house took minutes to collapse in 96-mph winds. Chief engineer Tim Reinhold says the stronger house cost about $5,000 more to build. It suffered only cosmetic damage in the same winds. [BusinessWeek]

The insurance

industry built this gargantuan science lab because it has a huge stake in these tests, having been left on the hook for billions of dollars when past major hurricanes wreaked havoc in the United States. Using the data it gathers during its indoor storm experiments, the industry will push for building codes that could save more homes from catastrophic damage and save insurers a lot of money.

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. [Wall Street Journal]

IBHS's test center won't just test hurricanes and houses, either. The industry intends to use its monster warehouse to test the mettle of airplanes, trucks, and even wind turbines. Related Content: DISCOVER: Harnessing the Weather—could technology eliminate "acts of God"?

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