Real-World Impact Along the Coast:
A Decade in the Making
By Fred Malik
To say that 2020 has been a remarkable year would be an understatement. With COVID-19 upending life as we know it, social tensions coming to a head, and the wrath of Mother Nature spawning a record-shattering amount of severe weather and wildfires, it has been like nothing I have ever seen.
In the midst of all of this, Hurricane Sally developed and slowly—ever so slowly—crept toward more than 17,000 homes that bear the FORTIFIED mark. When Sally made landfall in Gulf Shores, Alabama, on September 16, I knew it would be a watershed moment representing more than a decade of work for both IBHS and myself. It was with a great sense of anticipation (and more than a little anxiety) that I monitored the track of Sally and waited for it to hit the coast, which happened just 5 days after I celebrated my 11-year anniversary with IBHS. I have now spent more than a third of my professional career working alongside my teammates to help communities at risk to protect themselves from severe weather. The FORTIFIED program epitomizes the IBHS core value that we and our members share: having a real-world impact. And one way or another, we were finally going to know, definitively, if we had indeed served our members, those families, and the business owners along the Gulf Coast well.
Three days after landfall, a small team of IBHSers, following a litany of safety protocols, arrived on the ground in Baldwin County, Alabama. Not only did the teams assess the impact of Sally and the performance of FORTIFIED, they also reinforced relationships we have spent ten years building with contractors, insurance agents, builders, building officials, regulators and other stakeholders—all made possible by our work at the Research Center.
In two teams, we drove more than 1,200 miles over 4 days, from Dauphin Island eastward to Pensacola and inland to Spanish Fort, Daphne, and Fairhope. The amount of roof damage and trees down was startling. While not the ground-clearing devastation of events like Hurricanes Michael, Ivan, or Andrew, Sally crawled across thousands of homes and commercial buildings and ground them under her heel. This slow-moving storm was exactly the type of storm we talked about using science to defend against when we opened the Research Center back in 2010.
While driving in Alabama, I thought back to my first trip to the Research Center in 2009 and seeing one of the fans being hoisted into place. Fresh from my days as a commercial developer and builder in Florida, all I could think was, “Holy cow is this going to be a cool place to work!” A year later, during the inaugural wind demonstration with all the fans roaring, I witnessed a career-defining “holy cow” moment when I saw a full-size, two-story home disintegrate in front of my eyes—in just eight seconds.
In the ten years since, I have had the good fortune to have many more moments like that. I’ve witnessed our center of gravity migrate north from Tampa to South Carolina. From a company of around 20 employees to the 67 we have at present. I’ve watched as we built coalitions, influenced policy, invented new technologies, and cultivated world-class datasets on things like the properties of hail.
I feel lucky, not just because I work with a group of very smart, dedicated, curious and creative people, but also because I get to see first-hand in the field the difference that IBHS is making. That was particularly evident last year when Hurricane Dorian threatened my own home and family in Vero Beach, Florida. Back in 2018, I built my FORTIFIED home just a mile from the beach. As Dorian was tearing the Bahamas apart 50 miles to my east, I was preparing to evacuate my in-laws from the barrier island to my home. Just before leaving to get them, I got a call from our media team saying The Weather Channel was in town and asking if I could stop by to talk to them. It was one of a slew of IBHS media opportunities over those few days. But for me, it was literally 15 seconds of fame that generated calls and emails from around the country.
Making an impact is not always easy, and it’s not always fast (okay, it’s almost never fast, enough). We are fond of saying, “It’s a marathon, not a sprint” after all, but I have had the good fortune of seeing real and substantive change.
Nowhere was that more evident than just a few weeks ago, on the ground in Alabama. Exactly 15 years to the day after Ivan roared ashore and created the fertile soil where the seeds of FORTIFIED in coastal Alabama were sowed, we got the real-world, large-scale “test” we had been waiting for. As of this writing, our programs have a better than 95% post-Sally success rate of little to no damage on FORTIFIED homes and commercial buildings. This matches the success rate of smaller scale tests of Florence, Michael, Dorian, and Isaias in Florida and the Carolinas.
As I reflect back on the 10th anniversary of the IBHS Research Center, I am in awe of what we have accomplished and look forward to the great things to come (at scale and at an accelerated pace of course!).
Managing Director of FORTIFIED Products