IBHS FORTIFIED Home™: An Incremental, Holistic Approach to Reducting Residential Property Damage and Losses from Extreme Weather-Related Events

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Wednesday, 5 February 2014: 2:15 PM
Georgia Ballroom 2 (The Georgia World Congress Center )
Fred Malik, Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety, Tampa, FL; and R. Brown
Manuscript (549.5 kB)

In 2010, the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) developed the FORTIFIED Home™, program which provides guidance for retrofitting existing homes or building new homes to reduce their vulnerability to extreme weather events prevalent in their location. The first hazard-related program to be released was the FORTIFIED Home™: Hurricane designation program. This program focuses on retrofitting existing residential structures and building new homes to resist high winds and wind-driven water intrusion associated with tropical storms and hurricanes. The program utilizes engineering principles and draws on more than 20 years of experience in hurricane damage investigations to develop retrofits designed to reduce losses by improving the performance of vulnerable systems, not just selected components. Program goals include reducing damage and property loss and the displacement of homeowners by making improvements to the roof, reducing water intrusion through attic ventilation systems, strengthening gable end construction, protecting openings, and strengthening critical elements of the continuous load path from the roof to the foundation. Similar programs, with specific building requirements, have been developed for high-wind and hail-prone regions as well as wildfire-prone areas.

A key aspect of the FORTIFIED Home™ program is that it uses an incremental approach to achieving resilience, which allows homeowners and builders to strengthen homes in steps by first addressing the most common failure points. Each subsequent step builds upon the strengthening already completed. This approach allows property owners to make meaningful increases to the home's resilience in an affordable way. Builders can package resilience upgrades and offer them across all price points. The expected performance of the home improves with each step and begins to approach – and for some elements, to exceed – that of new homes built in areas where the latest engineering-based building codes and standards are adopted and enforced. For an existing home, the program requires an initial inspection and assessment of the home to identify which resilience upgrades, if any, are required to achieve FORTIFIED Home™ designation levels of Bronze, Silver, or Gold. Once required upgrades have been completed, the program includes verification protocols to ensure the work meets established criteria.

According to the Insurance Information Institute, hurricanes and tropical storms have accounted for 42.7 percent of insured losses since 1990 (Hartwig and Weisbart, 2012). There is no reason to expect that catastrophe losses from hurricanes and tropical storms will be any less devastating or costly in the coming years unless significant steps are taken to reduce the vulnerability of existing homes and businesses. Wildfire-related risks also are increasing with more than 8.4 million homes (60 percent of all new home construction) being added in the wildland urban interface (WUI) in the 1990s alone (Harbour 2007). Recent years have seen significant spikes in hail, thunderstorm and tornado damage and losses as first and second quarter storm-related losses have climbed into the tens of billions of dollars. This is due in large part to a population migration and significant growth the country has experienced in areas at high risk for extreme weather events. In 2004, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported that population trends pointed to substantial increases in coastal communities. At the height of the last building boom, more than 1,540 single-family building permits were issued each day in coastal counties (Crossett et al., 2004). While that volume certainly has slowed during the downturn in the real estate market, it underscores two significant facts:

1. since 1980, millions of homes representing billions of dollars in property value have been built in harm's way; and

2. higher population densities in high-risk areas will result in greater economic losses when weather-related extreme events occur.

Hurricane warnings often provide enough time for homeowners to take last-minute precautions and secure their homes, if they heed the warnings and take early action. However – as with wildfire, thunderstorms and tornadoes – once a hurricane warning has been issued, there is insufficient time to implement a number of changes that would make a substantial difference in the vulnerability of buildings in the affected area.

As risk exposure has increased, efforts to mitigate the effects of high wind-related events on the built environment have not kept pace. The National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) noted that the nation's primary focus on disaster response and recovery is “an impractical and inefficient strategy for dealing with these ongoing threats” (NSTC, 2005). In short, damaged and destroyed properties are rebuilt to insufficient standards, with either the hope that a catastrophe will not hit the same area again or the expectation that the result – if a severe event does occur – will be different. This paper describes the IBHS FORTIFIED Home™ program criteria and processes for reducing the vulnerability of both new and existing residential properties to various extreme weather events including hurricanes, wind-driven wildfires, hail and various types of severe windstorms. It describes the criteria associated with different designation levels for each of the hazards, the logic behind how the tiered system was developed, and the elements of the designation process.


Crossett, K. M., Culliton, T. J., Wiley, P. C., and Goodspeed, T. R., (2004), “Population Trends Along the Coastal United States: 1980-2008,” National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Ocean Service, Management and Budget Office, September 2004 http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/programs/mb/pdfs/coastal_pop_trends_complete.pdf

Harbour, T., (2007), “Partnering to Meet the Wildland Fire Challenge,” Disaster Safety Review, Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety, Volume 6, Number Two, Fall, 2007.

National Science and Technology Council, Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, Subcommittee on Disaster Reduction, (2005) “Grand Challenges for Disaster Reduction”, Executive Office of the President of the United States, Office of Science Technology Policy, Washington, DC, http://www.sdr.gov/GrandChallengesSecondPrinting.pdf.