Roy Wright got a text from his mom, “Our house is gone. What do I do next?” Wright’s parents lost their home in the Paradise Valley fire that ripped through California, devastating thousands of families as their homes vanished due to the wildfire.
Wright’s role as President and CEO of the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) and his years of experience at FEMA, prepared him for that text, but he wants to make sure all consumers have the tools they need to understand and fortify their homes against the damage of these large scale natural catastrophes.
“Unfortunately, this is going to be our new normal,” said Wright. “We will continue to see widespread wildfires, historic flooding, strong hurricanes and more impactful earthquakes. These threats aren’t going anywhere and we need to make sure consumers know that there are things they can do to offset some of the damage.”
A key part to consumers knowing about what they can do to ward off the devastating impacts of disasters is for the leader’s of state insurance departments to know what information to get out to the public. That’s why IBHS and the South Carolina Department of Insurance (SCDOI) invited insurance commissioners from each of the country’s zones and leaders from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) to attend a full day of immersing themselves in the IBHS experience.
“Today was all about learning and seeing how we can encourage our consumers to prepare for a natural disaster,” said Ray Farmer, Director of the South Carolina Department of Insurance. “If you prepare well before a catastrophe, you will be resilient. We want to help educate leaders on what resiliency in the insurance market looks like. And I think thats exactly what they saw today here at IBHS.”
After a detailed presentation about the important role insurance plays in a resilient recovery and how to get the message out to the consumers about the ways homeowners can build, rebuild, or add on to their homes to make them less susceptible to wildfires, wind, flood, earthquake and hurricane, IBHS took everyone on a tour of the research center. The large research center holds several test sites that can accommodate the larger testing scenarios like fire, wind and rain on built to scale homes.
“Simulation is a great way to test the impacts of Mother Nature,” said Wright. “For a long time, most of the studies were preformed on small models of homes. And those were great, but as technologically evolved, so did we. We have elevated our research by building actual scale roofs, homes and more. We then will test them with as realistic of weather conditions that we can simulate.”
“The advancements in technology that we’ve been seeing in insurance means more safety,” said Andy Beal, COO of the NAIC. “Knowing the importance fortified structures and having real world evidence for the need for those standards creates safer homes, towns and a better way of life.”
One way this technology has advanced protections on homes? Wildfire fortification. Through the tests done at IBHS, the research center has documented that at least 90 percent of homes and buildings damaged or destroyed are first ignited by embers or other fires. Facts like these help organizations like the NAIC encourage homeowners to take proper mitigation to protect their homeS.
How to Fortify Your Home
Wildfire greatly impacted parts of the West Coast in recent years, bringing devastation and destruction to thousands of families. One of the biggest dangers of fire is how fast the embers can travel and how quickly they can light up homes and businesses during a fire.
“Often times people think the biggest threat is the actual flames of the fire,” said Wright. “But as you can see, the embers being carried by the wind are just as dangerous, if not more so because they can travel for quite a distance before being extinguished.”
Embers can get under your porch or in your vents, starting a fire winning minutes. But there are ways to prevent that.
Take a look at the video below. There are two homes side-by-side, the one on the right is fortified, the one on the left is not. IBHS uses a wood burner and the fans to create and blow embers at a max speed of 12 miles an hour towards the two homes. Watch below to see why fortifying your home is so important!
You can find a complete list of IBHS’s recommendations by clicking here.
Hail and Storm
Hail can damage your roof, allowing for water to seep in and other issues. Having a strong roof is important to protecting the integrity of the inside of the structure. Currently, IBHS is working to test different shingle producers in their test areas and plans to publish a comprehensive list of who stands up to the test in the near future. The new hail test area is high tech, creating precise measurements of impact and damage. In the past, the engineers had to craft hail by hand, creating different sizes, solutions and densities. But as their research grew, that task proved to be too time consuming. IBHS now has a machine that quickly and meticulously creates hail for different standards to be used in the test machine.
Check out the video below to see a shingle test in slow motion.
You can learn more about fortifying your home against hail here.
Hurricane and Flood
IBHS also tests for hurricane force winds using a tower of very forceful fans. Flooding and wind damage come with every hurricane and if you live on the coast, then you are likely to experience this almost every year! It is a great idea to make sure you have taken every step you can to fortify your home so that you can have a home to return to once the storm has passed.
You can learn more about fortifying your home against hurricane destruction here.
While it is impossible to be fully prepared for any natural disaster, the SCDOI, NAIC and IBHS encourages consumers to sit down with their agent and consider what risks their home faces for the disasters prone to that area. Do you need flood insurance? Earthquake insurance? Is your home fortified against hail and fire? Knowing is power, but taking that power and putting it into your home is protection. Protect the things in this life that are important to you.
If you have any questions regarding the best options for your insurance needs, please do not hesitate to contact the SCDOI if you are in South Carolina and for those elsewhere, please reach out to your state insurance department.