Irma's wind data will help insurers prepare for next storm

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Wind is big business at the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety. The organization, based in Tampa with an advanced lab facility in South Carolina, works with its carrier members to learn how various types of storms impact property.

"We can meticulously recreate hurricanes, staright-line windstorms, wildfire ember storms and more," says Julie Rochman, IBHS president and CEO of the applied research group. "We are focused on the things that keep insurers up at night.

In order to understand the magnitude of weather events, IBHS sends engineers with sensor instruments out to storm zones and uses that data in its lab experiments. Those engineers had just returned from Texas, where Hurricane Harvey devastated the Houston area, and were immediately re-deployed to parts of Florida that lay in the path of Hurricane Irma.

"They are deploying wind towers that will collect data in advance of the storm, during the storm and afterward," Rochman says. "Every time we get another data point it fills a void."

Even though insurers have access to a lot of data in the big data era, there are still individual locations that are null or lightly populated, Rochman explains. IBHS is trying to fill in as much as it can to help its clients prepare better. For example, for hail, the company developed instrumentation over the past few years that has created a data set of hail sizes and damage yield.

"We've gone out into the field with a team from Penn State that underlies all the forecasting done by the National Weather Service," Rochman says. "We're getting more granular information, from large hail to small hall, finding out what is more damaging, looking at regionalities so members can deploy resources more accurately."

IBHS' sets up its instruments after getting permission from property owners. However, as more sensor devices are deployed in homes, the ability for insurers to get data is improving, and in the future IBHS may be working from a new data set

"We're not tuned into the Internet of Things just yet, but some day, I think it's entirely possible that those things will connect," Rochman says. "A house could ping a carrier, and the carrier could ping a system, and say, 'Here's windspeed measurements here.' It could act as objective source of info of what's happening at that structure."

The 2017 hurricane season is going to be a watershed event for the industry, Rochman concludes. Not only will IBHS add a lot of data to her organization, but the sheer power and number of storms are going to test how well years of preparation pay off.

"It's historic and it will cause companies to look at the way they did business," she says.

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