Severe inland storms and tornadoes are natural hazards that inflict substantial damage. Until recently these high wind events were perceived of as either impossible or impractical to design for, which limited opportunities for, and acceptance of, inland wind mitigation efforts.
A review of damage after Hurricane Andrew (1992) led insurers to question the incredible variability in the performance of building construction. Noting buildings that had successfully withstood the storm, conversations with engineers and code officials convinced the insurance industry that wind resistance was something that could be designed for. While disagreements regarding the frequency and severity of storms has slowed implementation of widespread hurricane wind mitigation codes the engineering field has moved forward with effective recommended practices.
The insurance industry has a long history of the linking the performance of specific attributes with insurance products, beginning with the seaworthiness of vessels in the late 1600’s, boiler safety and fire safety through inspection and building codes in the 1800’s, to various efforts underway today. Understanding both the nature of the hazard and the anticipated performance of the risk (property) is critical to the insurance mechanism.
Typically insurers group inland wind events (straight-line wind, tornado, and wind/hail) together. Events are further classified as Catastrophes (CAT) or Noncatastrophes (NonCAT), depending in the number of policyholders affected and the dollar amount of damage. Coastal windstorms (hurricanes) are considered separately, principally due to the high exposure (many structures impacted by the same event) insurers face.
While the debate on the exact nature of wind speeds continues, State Farm and the insurance industry push ahead with research and public education initiatives. State Farm projects include the Good Neighbor House in Florida, a Category 4 hurricane resistant home with a dedicated wind instrumentation tower, structural and building product research, work on technical modifications to building codes, and efforts to promote the adoption of statewide building codes. Industry-wide programs include the Institute for Business and Home Safety’s “Fortified For Safer Living” and the Federal Alliance for Safe Home’s “Blueprint for Safety.”
It has become apparent that much of the damage that is seen after many inland wind events simply does not need to occur. Engineer and builders are quite capable of designing wind resistant structures. The fact is that many of these inland wind events develop wind speeds far lower than the forces associated with hurricanes. A better understanding of inland wind speeds, (straight-line and tornadic) coupled with proper communication to the public could help bring about a market demand for improved construction practices.