To Test for Climate Disasters: Break, Burn and Throw Stuff

A team of researchers is destroying things — with wind, water and fire — to help insurers manage the increasing risks of extreme weather.

Comments: 30

  1. The headline of this article is misleading. The testing here is on what works to withstand disasters, not about testing for the disasters themselves. That said, it's interesting work. Nobody seems to properly address the mounting costs of increasing disasters. Unfortunately, as we spend all our money on emergencies, we're not spending on prevention and improvement as much.

  2. i was involved in the design and construction of curtain walls, the glass, metal and stone envelope that surrounds many big buildings, in the mid to late 80s. Even then owner's insurance companies required them to be tested for wind and water penetration, structural integrity, etc. As you go higher, as in NYC, weird things can happen. Wind driven rain at higher elevations can make it rain up, and do so with tremendous force. Twist and shear can literally tear a structure off it's foundation. With the ever increasing amounts of wind and heat, natural and manmade (read hot air), it's important this kind of testing becomes routine and more rigorous. Besides, it's a lot of fun to shoot a 2x4 thru a big piece of glass.

  3. I think the tail wagged the dog here. Buncha dudes were having fun shooting 2x4s through glass and then thought, "How can we get someone to pay me for this? (And make the world a better, safer, more appropriately indemnified place."

  4. All major corporations take risk assessment very seriously, especially global operators. Many of them are quietly convinced of the reality of man-made climate change, from physical risks like those mentioned in this article, to geopolitical risks like population displacement. So why are they so unwilling to be public about it, to put their political capital behind actions to mitigate climate change? It's really a mystery. Even ExxonMobil is laying off fossil fuel workers, and ramping up alternative energy investments. Their shareholders are surely aware of this. Global companies need a stable, peaceful, and resilient world in which to confidently manufacture and sell their products. They will lose this quickly if they don't get on board with helping to mitigate climate change.

  5. Back in the 70’s working in Florida on a major power project the engineers considered weather. The project was in the 100 year flood zone and a 25 ft barrier wall surrounded the facilities vital areas. This was the 70’s and they knew, even back in the 50’s the older plants in this area were protected. Ironically though, no homes up and down the coast had any flood protection. Made me wonder, what’s the point in saving the source of energy when nothing or no one would be there to use it after catastrophe struck? Good article, at least the insurance company is looking at improved ways to defend against crippling weather events with what seems to be inevitable now, since leaving the Paris Climate Agreement.

  6. It is now far too late to forestall severe climate change by the most sensible and economical means -- reducing carbon in the atmosphere -- so it is necessary to start "up armoring" our structures. As the world we recognize shifts out from underneath our feet thanks to a convulsing climate in search of a new higher-energy equilibrium I have to wonder - will our ingenuity be able to keep up? Can thicker plywood, stronger roofs, and drought-resistant wheat cut it? Can we figure out how to survive on a planet unlike the one we evolved in? We blithely assume so because we have forgotten what it is like to lose to nature. Let the record show we were a most clever species. Not especially wise but clever indeed. Perhaps too much for our own good.

  7. Catastrophe bond issuers count on these tests to price risk. Investors make money when they bet on an event that does not happen. They lose money when an event occurs, but they can also short a bond on a secondary market, so they can make money both ways. This is our future: people have figured out how to make money on climate change, no matter which way we go. Read M Lewis 2007 article in NYT mag on this.

  8. I became aware of this issue in the winter of 2015. There was 5 feet of snow on my roof, so to prevent a possible collapse, i shoveled snow off a roof for the first time in my life at age 54. But I like snow. Thanks, climate change !

  9. Insurance companies, if they are to remain viable, have to take real world events seriously, and the exacerbating of climate variances, storms and droughts which are being made extreme by human caused climate change. Trump and his fossil fuel allies meanwhile, like ostriches which hide their heads in the sand, disdain environmental regulations and safety regulations because they do have some cost, with some effect on their bottom line. After all, money is their god. The Donald, just as in his business life, is very good at walking away from situations which don't turn out well, witness his 6 corporate bankruptcies. Somehow he seems to escape with his loot just before the curtain crashes.

  10. Where do I sign up?!!

  11. I want this job.

  12. Simply research done to find more ways of not having to make good on claims, hardly solely in the public's good. When the big one comes everyone is essentially on their own. Look what happened after Sandy.

  13. So hurricanes and tornadoes are now marketed as "climate disasters." Noted.

  14. I don't know where the NYT's has been for the past century, but improving infrastructure resilience has been going on since the industrial revolution began. 25 years ago after hurricane Andrew hit Miami, the state of Florida heavily revised its building codes and home inspection processes and now have the toughest building codes in the nation. This includes many changes to roofing, window strength, and other related items. My roof had to be brought back to even newer code when it was redone last year. The result: Two major hurricanes hit Florida this year and this story was out of the news a week later. Structural damage was minimal. People are still talking about "not even a hurricane" Sandy in NY and NJ. The engineering required for a robust structure is not a secret. It is up to states to legislate the building codes to implement them. Simple things like using the right kind of nail in roofing can make a big difference. Here is a FEMA document that describes structure building in in detail: FEMA P-499, Home Builder's Guide to Coastal Construction (2010) BTW, there is no observational evidence hurricanes have gotten worse over the past hundred years of warming. Regardless of the climate culture wars it is a good idea to continue to improve infrastructure resilience to disasters as society has increasingly chosen to place more infrastructure in the sites of disasters on the coast.

  15. The threats that have been built against, and the structural enhancements have been necessary. After Andrew, you point out that Florida made substantial changes in building codes. The Northeast did the same after Sandy, so homes in the most affected neighborhoods are being built much higher, if they can be rebuilt at all. Houston may be changing, but they have to deal with being in Texas, so good luck with that. But building codes are less help against rising sea level's impacts on infrastructure. All the pipes and pipelines we've got buried, the coming race between elevated roadbeds vs. property lines, the fact that sewage treatment plants and ports are pretty much always going to be at the lowest point. When "lowest" becomes "below water line" more and more often, costs will keep going up. An elevated house with non-functioning sewer lines isn't useful.

  16. Not all systems are fool proof. Several years ago there was a region wide power outage in SoCal. The back up generators dutifully kicked in and ran out of fuel in 4 - 6 hours. Since there was no power in the entire region they could not be refueled. The ever resourceful Marines have since installed a pipeline to a local garbage dump to use the methane generated at the dump to power the generators for their air base.

  17. FM Global has always been a leader in loss prevention - many of their standards are incorporated into or referenced by building codes. Good article.

  18. These are not normal fires. They melt cars while skipping trees. They are created by directed microwave energy. Weather control as a weapon has been developed for over 70 years. Our government is using it against us. "Where are the rains," you asked yesterday? See Dane Wigington on YouTube.

  19. This is not new, why not just start with adopting the Dade County Building Code? Perhaps FM will only certify building code compliance and offer FM insurance for those paying for FM tests?

  20. One good flood damage mitigater would be to use "composition" drywall in the lower 4' of all walls. This is the type used in areas that are tiled, mainly in bathrooms. The board would resist crumbling and mildew formation in cases where flooding subsides relatively quickly.

  21. I want this job. Are these people hiring?

  22. of course the risks and costs for disasters increased , you have more population and buildings that were not around even 20 years ago .

  23. how come they get to have all the fun?

  24. Although Republicans continue to deny climate science on behalf of their fossil-fuel industry patrons, all you need to do is look at the actions of those who cannot afford to indulge in nonsense. The insurance industry and military are two of the most obvious examples, and both recognize global climate change as a very serious matter.

  25. Come on New York Times. Really? Organizations have been doing this for decades. Never heard of ANSI, ISO, UL, etc, etc? And I've yet to hear that more categories have been added to hurricane or tornado levels

  26. Reminds me of the saying: "The only difference between having fun with your friends and science is in science you record your results"

  27. "Test for weather disasters" is good enough for the headline. Each event that causes damage will be a weather disaster. The frequency, intensity, duration, or combined effects will be changing as we warm the planet, but each event will be weather. But DO please write more about the insurance aspect of what we're doing to the planet. Climate and pollution damages, both. Houston had "500-year" flooding three years running. Down there, they're finally starting to force some owners to elevate the home if they want to rebuild it. Tracking the insurance impacts will maybe, finally, start getting it into some people's heads that the abandonment of low-lying, valuable real estate will come not from submersion, but due to inability to finance as insurers flee. PS: "Hailstorms, researchers said, were a recent concern"? They'd only be a recent concern to someone just getting into the insurance business, especially in the Midwest. I worked a bit with a crop insurer some years ago, and hail is expensive. By the way, they're delighted by the earth-focused satellites some Republicans don't like, because they are better able to verify a hailstorm REALLY hit some farmer's tomato patch. Fraud costs money, too.

  28. As if "extreme weather" hasn't always been a part of the ebb and flow of the earth's climate. There's something called history and it's worth looking at from time to time.

  29. There's something called science - and facts - and it's worth looking at, especially when multiple studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals show that 97% or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree: Climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities. In addition, most of the leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing this position.

  30. What a cool line of work. Show this to some teenagers in their STEM classes!