• A growing field of products
can help minimize the severity
of natural disasters and speed
• Higher standards and
certification can help drive
demand for resilient properties.
• Insurers can play a significant
role in advancing resiliency efforts.
In the event of flooding that exceeds a depth of two feet, automatic opening
window panels (flood inlets) are triggered by sensors to allow flood water to enter
the property slowly, to reduce external pressure that could damage the structure.
Controlled inflow buys time for a homeowner to raise furniture up on blocks,
or for a business owner to raise pallets of goods up to higher shelves or move
equipment to a higher elevation.
Water intrusion is reduced dramatically, and even when it happens, there is
little to no damage. Water is pushed into the floor drains, surfaces are allowed to
dry, and then it’s back to
business as usual in days
rather than months —
likely with no insurance
happening on this side
of the pond as well.
For entities that need
flood solutions, barriers
like flood gates and
retractable flood walls are
the most sophisticated
they’ve ever been.
After suffering $4
billion in damage during Superstorm Sandy, New York’s Metropolitan Transit
Authority invested heavily in flexible fabric flood panels that are made with Kevlar
and can be unrolled quickly and easily. Additional flood gates hinged to air grates
are passively activated by the weight of incoming water entering the grates.
The transit authority is also testing a prototype “resilient tunnel plug”
— essentially a giant air bag that can be deployed quickly to seal off sections
of subway tunnel. The plug is designed to withstand not only flood but also
Even temporary solutions are leaps and bounds beyond the days when
sandbagging was typically the best option. New as-needed barrier methods
include inflatable bladders that can be placed around a building’s perimeter and
filled with water to keep floodwater and flood debris at bay.
“People have always said, ‘Well, I’m in a flood plain, it’s inevitable. It’s an act
of God,’ ” said Carl Solly, vice president and chief engineer, FM Global. “In the
last several years, we’ve really been trying to deliver the message that you can do
something about your flood risk.”
SHAKE, PUMMEL AND BURN
Flood is far from the only problem benefiting from smart engineering.
FM Global is working with manufacturers to develop and certify roofing
material designed to better withstand the localized hailstorms that often plague
southeastern and midwestern states.
Current materials rated for severe hail can withstand hailstones up to 1 ¾ inches in
diameter. The new product, rated for “very severe” hail can tolerate hailstones up to
2 ½ inches. The difference sounds small,
but it’s far from it.
“It’s about three times the amount
of impact energy when it hits the
roof [compared to a 1 ¾ hailstone],”
explained Solly. “That’s a big
As for “bouncing back” after a
catastrophic fire, Solly said that’s a fairly
tall order. But even there, technology
is helping to reduce the severity of
fires so that disruption is minimal. FM
Global researchers recently pioneered
the concept of SMART sprinklers
POWERFUL FLOOD SOLUTIONS
Newer building products move the needle significantly in terms of efficacy.
For new or restored structures in flood-prone regions, Georgia Pacific
produces gypsum panels that incorporate fiberglass mats instead of paper facings
and comply with the latest FEMA requirements for flood damage resistance and
mold resistance. Wall boards made from magnesium oxide (MgO) don’t absorb
water at all and have the added benefits of being environmentally friendly and
In the UK, advanced flood-resilient structures built with water-resilient
concrete-block partitions are being fitted with not only MgO wallboards, but also
wood-look porcelain or ceramic flooring that’s non-permeable and fire-resistant
without sacrificing aesthetics. Drains are installed in the flooring, along with subflooring gullies and submersible pumps that push the water back outside. Outlets
and appliance motors are all situated above expected flood levels. Doors are
equipped with sliding flood panels.
“We want the building codes
strengthened to an immediate
occupancy [goal] — we want
people to be able to move
right back into that building
so there’s a much shorter
window of disruption.”
— Michael Brown, vice president and property
manager, Golden Bear Insurance