Harnessing Terrible Storms in Quest To Develop Better Buildings and Materials
Photo: Tom Sawyer
Lab’s bank of 105 five-ft-dia electric fans generate winds of up to 130 mph and can throw rain, hail and embers as well.


For Timothy A. Reinhold, senior vice president of research and chief engineer at the Institute for Business and Home Safety’s newly commissioned, $40-million test facility in Chester County, S.C., the hurricane that blew through the lab on Oct. 18 and tore a two- story house to shreds was a joy to behold.

Ever since Hurricane Andrew ripped through south Florida in 1992, Reinhold, a civil engineer and storm- damage researcher, has been on a mission to capture the forces of a hurricane in a laboratory large enough that full-scale building assemblies could be studied in terrible wind, rain, hail and firestorm conditions.

Over the years Reinhold’s quest led him to scheme to construct such facilities using airboat fans and even the prop wash from Russian bomber engines. But it was only in the last few years, after the IBHS bought into his dream to capture the perfect storm, that a sponsor was found with the resources needed.

“This is such a critically important, game-changing initiative,” says Julie Rochman IBHS president and CEO. “There really—at least to me—was no choice but to do it right, the best way it could be done.”

The IBHS, a membership consortium, is intent on reducing storm-damage losses by reducing damage in the first place. It will test building materials and assemblies under extreme conditions and film the response. It hopes to generate independent data to improve storm-resistance. Tests on deck include ember intrusion into structures during wildfires, rooftop equipment mounts for commercial construction and green roofs and rooftop generating systems.

“Now, any number of products can be tested in real-world conditions for the first time—and not just products, but assemblies,” says Randy Shakelford, a research engineer with anchoring-systems firm Simpson Strong-Tie. “That’s the value to me, to test everything together in actual storms.”