IBHS emerged from 2018 with meaningful new research and analyses, popular education programs for members and employees, laudable milestones in our FORTIFIED programs and a clear Disaster Safety Strategy for the future. The year brought changes in our board, our leadership and our staff. We thank those whose deep commitment built our world-class organization and supported our groundbreaking research, and we welcome those who will carry the torch forward to even greater scientific discovery and impact.
2018 also brought a second consecutive year of severe weather events that underscored the compelling need for focus on our primary perils: wind, wind-driven rain, hail and wildfire. Our work to narrow the path of weather damage and reduce avoidable losses has become a national imperative, drawing more partners to the resilience table, informing state and federal policies, and inspiring the people of IBHS to find solutions that will prevent the disruption, displacement and financial loss associated with weather disasters.
2018: People with a Purpose
While the organization underwent the ebb and flow of leadership and other personnel changes during 2018, we found among both newcomers and existing staff a deeply shared sense of why we exist as an organization. Understanding the reason WHY we are motivated to come to work each day, led the organization to further, collective introspection about what we need to do, and how we need to do it. The result of the discussion and debates internally, as well as with Board members, led to one of the year’s major achievements: our Disaster Safety Strategy that sets forth our strategic focus and commitments for the next two years. The strategy received board approval in November and implementation planning began immediately, so IBHS entered 2019 ready to accelerate and deliver.
2018: Advancing our Science
Without question, the perils we study fought for recognition as “worst of the worst” during 2018.
Without question, the perils we study fought for recognition as “worst of the worst” during 2018. Hurricanes, wildfire and hail dominated nonpolitical national news for much of the year. Considering lost lives, lost homes and businesses, and the painful impact of displacement, counting the losses in dollars fails to tell the full story. Still, by that one measure, wildfire inflicted the most harm causing $16.5 billion in damages, more than Hurricane Michael at $16 billion and Hurricane Florence at $14 billion.
Wildfires burned throughout 2018, proving once again that wildfire doesn’t have a seasonal preference and is a year-round peril. IBHS conducted and shared new research validating the importance of maintaining a five-foot noncombustible zone around the entire perimeter of the home. We studied how to mitigate ember risks on the ever-popular back deck. And, our team visited wildfire destruction zones created during 2018 and participated in a “free-burn” in Ohio to gather data on radiant heat and ember transport. These data, once analyzed, may provide powerful information for codes, zoning and neighborhood developers.
Much of the wildfire work in 2018 will be showcased in early 2019 at a full-scale IBHS demonstration. We will highlight the vulnerabilities in many homes that embers so frequently exploit. Based on a 2018 report prepared in partnership between IBHS and Headwaters Economics, these vulnerabilities can be affordably avoided during new construction, as well as addressed with retrofits and basic but vigilant maintenance.
The high wind and wind-driven rain so dangerously characteristic of severe hurricanes also dominated national headlines as well as our research attention during 2018. The 2018 Hurricane season delivered two powerful storms, and IBHS deployed research teams following both, expanding our data and studying the impact of these two very different hurricanes. We acquired solid evidence that FORTIFIED structures are performing as expected and we anticipate growth in FORTIFIED designations following Florence in North Carolina, Michael in Florida, and Harvey in Texas.
Additionally, our post-disaster report on wind damage from Hurricane Harvey was released mid-summer, revealing wind destruction patterns, showing (again) that stronger building codes work, and highlighting opportunities for additional study. Our highly systematic data collection and analysis process resulted, as planned, in new vulnerability data to inform hurricane and high wind risk models but it also offered guidance to help home and business owners protect their property.
IBHS’s groundbreaking commitment to hail research along several dimensions made major progress in 2018. Hail is now causing nearly $10 billion dollars in property losses annually, transforming it from an insurance industry economic nuisance to a much broader societal concern.
During 2018 we made significant progress on our hail impact standard work and testing. We will release a detailed performance report on the impact resistant product lines of leading shingle manufacturers in 2019. We continued our Hail Field Study, to collect data that serves as the foundation for new initiatives, including the next generation of catastrophe models (providing data on the type, quantity and size of hail that falls during a storm’s evolution) as well as exposing differences between hail impacts, natural weathering effects and fraudulent damage. And our research will be used to improve radar detection and forecasting of hail. From documenting the largest hailstone ever to fall in Alabama to co-sponsoring and co-chairing the first North American Workshop on Hail, IBHS continued to serve as a significant and highly respected resource in the field of hail research during 2018.
While major hurricanes receive the most media attention, even a heavy, soaking rain when combined with a strong wind causes expensive damage to both commercial and residential property. During 2018, while tackling several large-scale events, IBHS conducted new research into a common unit found in myriad hotel rooms, condominiums and apartment complexes – the packaged terminal air conditioner (PTAC) unit. These heating and cooling units consistently allow water to enter the building causing costly wall, floor and ceiling damages. Our research considered how the water invades and identified practical ways to reduce this damage.
But while water through the wall is a serious problem, water from above can be worse. Our damage assessments following Hurricanes Harvey, Florence and Michael reinforced the mitigation benefits of the sealed roof deck and prepared IBHS to double down during 2019, consistent with leading with the roof. Consequently, in our Disaster Safety Strategy, encouraging the sealed roof deck—on new roofs, during “sunny day” retrofits and regular roof replacement cycles, and through building codes—is a central piece of our plan.
2018: Informing Policy
Driving public awareness that we are not powerless against severe weather is an ongoing IBHS effort. Home and business owners can take simple steps to prepare and strengthen homes and commercial properties, and the effort is both affordable and smart. Informed and supportive public policy environments that encourage or adopt proven standards and create intelligent risk-reduction policies and incentives at the state and federal levels can position America as the global standard for resilience.
In January 2018, prior work bore fruit when the National Institute for Building Sciences (NIBS) used FORTIFIED as the national standard for demonstrating that wind mitigation saves $5 for every $1 invested. In March, IBHS issued its third full Rating the States report, our flagship study highlighting the building code environments along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts. Following exclusive coverage by Bloomberg News, the Rating the States 2018 edition was seized upon by media in nearly every state it touched, and then some, as the nation was still reeling from the impacts of the 2017 hurricanes. Extensive media coverage consistently reflected, as Bloomberg News does here, “that despite the increasing severity of natural disasters, many … states have relaxed their approach to codes — or have yet to impose any whatsoever.”
Yet progress was definitively made in 2018. Early in the year, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 amended the Stafford Act to provide an increased federal cost share to states and territories that undertake eligible mitigation actions outlined in the law. And at the end of the year, Congress passed long sought after federal hazard mitigation legislation that could move up to $1 billion to the FEMA Pre-disaster Mitigation Fund.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, IBHS CEO Roy Wright met with North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper to discuss possible code improvements to mitigate future damage. Texas, which has taken commendable steps to improve resilience against flooding, also saw its General Land Office update its Hurricane Harvey Disaster Recovery Housing Guidelines in 2018 to require that homes in high wind and hurricane areas are built in compliance with FORTIFIED Home™ standards.
2018: FORTIFIED… We built it, and they are coming.
2018 was a huge year for the FORTIFIED program. We surpassed 10,000 homes designated as FORTIFIED, awarded our first Commercial designations in Alabama, and earned major news coverage in the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg News, the Washington Post, Kiplinger’s and elsewhere. Now clearly the undisputed national standard for resilient construction, FORTIFIED is being noticed, particularly after all the FORTIFIED gold structures in Michael’s path were structurally unscathed by a storm that leveled lesser structures.
Increasingly, when coupled with its rigorous scientific and engineering backbone, the FORTIFIED Home program continues to grow. Further enhancements in 2019 will augment growth in key states and improve the program’s accessibility.
Actions by the North Carolina Insurance Underwriting Association or the Texas General Land Office reflect a unique, state-focused approach to encouraging FORTIFIED and follow the spirit of our early partners in Alabama and Oklahoma but appropriately, address each state’s unique profile, needs and attitudes. As the states build incentives and early adopters see their homes pass tests, we believe many will be following in the footsteps of people like Bill and Susan O’Bryant, Texans who are rebuilding their home to FORTIFIED standards following Hurricane Harvey’s destruction. They shared their story with The Wall Street Journal:
“ROCKPORT, Texas—After Hurricane Harvey thrashed their coastal home here last year, tearing off chunks of roof and leaving a sodden shell, Bill and Susan O’Bryant vowed: Never again.
They are now rebuilding a well-armored home, adhering to stringent building standards devised by the insurance industry that exceed local code requirements. The house’s roof, floors and foundation are fastened together with steel straps, the windows are made of impact-resistant glass, and the roof is specially sealed and nailed down.
“We really wouldn’t do this any other way,” said Mr. O’Bryant, a 74-year-old retired restaurateur.”
While weather disasters bring attention to the need for resilience, memories are lamentably short, so it takes a collective stream of voices working together toward shared goals to keep our mission top of mind. Ongoing support from our member companies enables IBHS to partner with Smart Home America, MyStrongHome, the BuildStrong Coalition, the Disaster Resilience Network, the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes, our insurance trade partners and many others to make homes and buildings safer. And the phones kept ringing in 2018, which brought additional organizations including roofing manufacturers, leading code officials at state and federal levels, builders, retailers and others to our table to explore opportunities to move the needle forward together with IBHS.
The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), worked with us to develop an educational campaign to promote disaster preparedness, support business continuity planning, and provide structural mitigation resources. We were pleased to partner with both SBA and the Federal Emergency Management Agency in support of National Preparedness Month in September.
We also helped NBC’s TODAY show share the risks of beach umbrellas on windy days; responded to a request from the National Weather Service to document the now-famous hailstone in Alabama; and, together with the Alabama Insurance Underwriting Association, we installed a new roof farm in Foley, Alabama.
2018: Member Outreach
Returning value for the investment our members make in our work is always top of mind for IBHS, and often the best value comes through an experience at our renowned Research Center. To hear the wind and watch demonstrations in action is to make a real connection between the people of IBHS and our work, and the people and work of our member companies.
In June, we hosted our third annual Commercial Lines training at the Research Center and launched a new member education program: The Disaster Dynamics Academy. The popularity of the first Academy in June led to a repeat program in December—both focused on severe convective storms. A blend of science, engineering, building vulnerability and strengthening techniques, and unforgettably compelling demonstrations provided representatives from 35 member companies with useful information and lots of ideas to inform their operations. Additionally, over a two-month period, we hosted claims adjusters from several member companies to provide a real-world perspective to assist in the development of the damage matrix associated with our hail performance standard. These dialogues unlocked a whole new understanding of what adjusters experience in the field and ways we could support them.
Beyond these events, we hosted a series of member visits, and we even asked members to teach us a thing or two about insurance operations. Special thanks to Board Member (J. Smith “Smitty” Harrison from South Carolina Wind & Hail) for spearheading monthly “lunch and learn” sessions for IBHS on a range of general property insurance topics; this knowledge will better equip IBHS scientists and other subject matter experts to understand the insurance business and how our work can anticipate and meet your needs.