Bend Down the Growing Risk Curve
From coast to coast, the geography of the United States lends itself to destructive hail, wind, water, wildfire, and winter weather. The forces of Mother Nature will not be constrained, yet much of the damage caused by severe weather is avoidable. At IBHS, we call this “narrowing the path of damage.” For example, the zone of the strongest winds in a Cat 4 hurricane will cause destruction, yet the damage that occurs in 100, 110, or 120 mph wind bands can be significantly reduced. Similarly, the areas of EF3, EF4, and EF5 damage in the strongest tornadoes will see destruction, yet damage in the bands of EF0, EF1, and EF2 winds can be reduced by building better.
In addition to protecting buildings and their occupants, IBHS’s work can reduce the avoidable suffering and the financial loss caused by natural disasters. Hurricane Harvey (2017) provided a salient example of how damage to structures can lead to displacement and economic decline. Harvey damaged almost 150,000 homes, destroyed approximately 500,000 cars, and closed many businesses. Tens of thousands of people were displaced, and many lost their jobs and/or their mobility. Since it is estimated that one in four small businesses do not reopen after being shut down by a weather disaster, the long-term economic effect on Texas will be staggering. When businesses aren’t open, people aren’t working, tax revenues decline, and local economies are devastated. This underscores the importance of IBHS’s business protection products, including business continuity and emergency preparation.
Codes & Standards→ Driving with Our Science
Codes and standards will shape the IBHS research agenda, and IBHS research will shape codes and standards.
Recognizing that IBHS has a long history in both the development of model codes and supporting their enactment at the state level, the Disaster Safety Strategy envisions a stronger voice and more strategic role for IBHS in strengthening codes, elevating the role of standards, and improving code enforcement.
The starting point for this higher level of engagement is to find new ways to bring IBHS’s top-tier science to bear on the development of codes and standards. Potential pathways include: (1) focusing on a key property protection measure, such as the sealed roof deck; (2) shaping key referenced standards such as International Code Council (ICC) 600 (high wind) and encouraging the development of additional prescriptive codes for other perils; (3) adding focus on the need for meaningful code enforcement; and (4) finding and pursuing opportunities at the state level to improve codes (e.g., when disaster damage highlights deficiencies).
IBHS research will support each of these pathways. For example, the shaping of ICC 600 revisions will be a direct outgrowth of IBHS’s research-to-date in the high-wind area, with additional research to be considered if needed to support more requirements that better match real-world conditions. In other instances, the research will be more akin to IBHS’s Rating the States Report, i.e., examination and comparison of existing requirements to answer the question, “How can we do better?” Selectively, IBHS can engage at the local level, using a decision matrix that includes criteria such as population at risk, rapid development, perils that are covered by codes, and the overall state code regime in play. This higher level of engagement will elevate IBHS’s role as a resiliency shaper by leveraging our science in the codes and standards arenas.
16. Focus on ICC 600 to shape the high-wind standard that is incorporated into the model codes.
17. Using a “Rating the States” approach, evaluate the code environment and suggest improvements for other states and metropolitan areas within our core perils.
FORTIFIED Silver & Gold Protections
As important as building codes are in protecting people, voluntary efforts to go beyond consensus-based model codes help provide additional property protection. That was the genesis of the IBHS FORTIFIED program. The Disaster Safety Strategy identifies FORTIFIED Roof as the most cost-effective path to reduce damage from these storms. However, IBHS’s other FORTIFIED designation levels (Silver and Gold) offer additional opening protection and load path strengthening that are most practical for new construction in hurricane-prone areas. The most salient example is in coastal Alabama, where top builders are building and marketing their homes as FORTIFIED Gold, and the real estate market is recognizing the value through sales price and marketability. The demand has resulted in nearly three-quarters of our current FORTIFIED Home stock achieving this level of protection. Additionally, these “best practice” homes provide tangible examples of how we as a nation can bend down the cost curve and prevent avoidable losses. IBHS will focus the most effort on scaling up FORTIFIED Roof designations but will continue to advance the importance of FORTIFIED Silver and Gold protections through outreach, training, and operational support.
Demonstrate Risk Insiders’ View
“A picture paints a thousand words, but a video shows a thousand pictures.” Since its opening in 2010, images from the IBHS Research Center have amplified our work by graphically demonstrating the ways that wind, wind-driven rain, hail, and wildfire can damage homes and businesses, and how to affordably reduce that risk.
Over these years, IBHS has staged several full-scale demonstrations and leveraged the impact of these demonstrations through traditional media, social media, presentations, and public policy engagement. As a general matter, these demonstrations have coincided with tests conducted to advance IBHS’s research agenda relating to our core perils (e.g., the wind protection benefits of FORTIFIED Home, how a sealed roof deck prevents water infiltration, defensible space protections against wildfire). As important as these linkages have been, we can expand the number of demonstrations at the Research Center and focus on targeted opportunities to drive real-world impact through new and compelling footage.
IBHS will never abandon the pursuit of new scientific information, but new science isn’t a prerequisite for a highly effective demonstration. Rather, the goal should be to use vivid, realistic demonstrations to illustrate the benefit of good resiliency-based choices and the disastrous impacts of inaction.
IBHS’s existing videos and other media continue to be well received. That said, a relatively modest investment in new demonstrations (and refreshing of videos from the current inventory) will keep the media coming back to the Research Center for new content and reinforcement of our core resiliency message.
18. Bring observers inside the perils studied at the Research Center by demonstrating how elements of disasters play out.
The Demand of Catastrophes
While most IBHS activity is carefully scheduled, real-world disasters offer unique opportunities to better understand the interaction of severe weather on the built environment; they also add more urgency to our work. People affected by a disaster, or those that had a close call, are often ready to reduce their risk from the “next big one,” at least until their memories fade. Likewise, public policymakers, who otherwise may shy away from hard choices relating to future resilience, are more willing to improve codes and direct resources to resilience.
Hurricane Florence (2018) provides an example of how IBHS can mobilize staff including the science, communications, FORTIFIED, operations, and public policy teams to act on real-world opportunities. Florence posed unique challenges and opportunities due to the activation of the North Carolina Insurance Underwriting Association’s FORTIFIED Roof endorsement and its forecasted path toward the IBHS Research Center.
Hurricane Michael (2018), making landfall only one month after Florence, presented a different scenario (performance of Florida building codes in a design wind speed event), at a time when IBHS staff (and Member companies) were still storm-weary.
In both instances, the IBHS playbook was largely put into motion shortly before, and immediately after, landfall. As a result, some IBHS opportunities were serendipitous rather than strategic, resulting from both geography and weather characteristics. Looking ahead, IBHS will pre-plan for such engagements by the development of “cat-in-the-box” scenarios that leverage our multidisciplinary skills and bring out the best of IBHS at the worst of times. Additionally, catastrophic events uniquely provide short duration challenges and opportunities for the IBHS FORTIFIED program but will require additional strategies focused to meet spikes in demand for FORTIFIED Roofs.
19. Develop IBHS “playbooks” for major disaster scenarios—focusing on hurricane, tornado, and wildfire—including communications needs, research opportunities, public policy engagement, and FORTIFIED (where relevant). Recognizing that property protection should never overshadow life safety, be ready for the cross-cutting needs and opportunities that come from disasters.
20. Develop and implement a FORTIFIED catastrophic disaster strategy to address short-term spikes in demand that will produce sharp increases in designation rates. This may involve redeployment of resources from sunny day operations.
21. Encourage government and nonprofit grants to support FORTIFIED rebuilding and provide a guide for the best uses of such funding.
Beyond Research in Core Natural Perils
The core perils of wind/wind-driven rain, hail, and wildfire are the fundamental lanes in which IBHS can uniquely and profoundly drive change in the built environment. The resource demands of groundbreaking scientific inquiry require an undeterred focus on these core perils. Moreover, these are the areas where momentum is building to translate this groundbreaking science into codes and standards, FORTIFIED, and other real-world impacts. Yet, the extraordinary reputation that the Institute has earned allows IBHS to have a public voice across the natural hazards sphere. As a shaper of the US resiliency agenda, IBHS needs to add its voice to the full set of natural hazards. We must meet people where they are. For example, homeowners see a hurricane as the cause of a disaster, often without understanding how wind and floodwaters caused specific damage modes.
Likewise, public policymakers who are willing to promote “resilience” do not want to limit their efforts to specific weather or climate phenomenon. Recognizing that IBHS’s principal investments sit in the research perils, IBHS will use its voice and platform to advance science-based public action to build resiliency across all natural perils. This work will extend to disciplines such as business continuity, community resilience, emergency preparation, and emerging technology.