State-of-the-art research facility could reduce workplace injuries
"The major thing that will come out [of the research] for owners is looking at different building components and systems and seeing what we can do to make them more resilient," said Julie Rochman, IBHS' president and CEO.
The facility will allow researchers to simulate various natural catastrophes to determine the efficacy of different construction materials and structures. For example, category 3 hurricane-force winds could be created to study the effects on a building constructed inside the 21,000 square foot test chamber.
Since roofing is the most common type of loss, that's what the researchers will look at first; "for example, different types of rooftop configurations and what to do to make sure they're secure," Rochman said. "If you lose your rooftop equipment that had to do with air conditioning space or air filtration, that has health implications."
The researchers will additionally be able to examine sections of buildings and connections between the floors. "We're cognizant that safety issues involve employees, but the focus is on the structure itself," Rochman said. "But one area that affects both [structures and employees] is trying to keep the structures together."
As Rochman points out, work sites can easily become shelters. "A lot of natural disasters occur during the day or when people are on their way to and from work," she said. "So having all the plans in place -- for the structure, the interior design, and the engineering -- so you're not injuring people is important to us."
The facility, which opened in the fall, is funded through the property insurance industry. The goal is to reduce property losses.
The research that will be done in the facility is nearly limitless. "We have a big flexible chamber that's a half acre under cover," Rochman said. "If it fits in the chamber, and it is something property insurance covers, we can look at testing it."
The institute also produces risk-specific engineering materials, such as wind-related retrofit guidance. There are also publications focused on interior mitigation, "making sure if the ground shakes you won't have things flying around people, such as racks of equipment or pipes that could burst," Rochman said.
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January 13, 2011
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