The Influence of Andrew

Craig Tillman
President, WeatherPredict Consulting Inc.

When you look at the science of natural catastrophe risk, Hurricane Andrew in many ways was pivotal in focusing scientists, engineers and risk managers towards gaining a better physical understanding of this risk.  When I look back, it’s interesting how much our ability to characterize the potential impacts of extreme weather events has matured.   Andrew’s destruction motivated this – it affected my own professional concentrations and at WeatherPredict, many of our scientists can also point to the influence of the Andrew catastrophe on their careers.

What is commonplace today could not even be considered at the time of Andrew.   Our scientists now have the ability to investigate tropical cyclones through the use of numerical weather prediction models that capture the physics of these natural systems as they traverse across the ocean and make landfall on our coastlines – and they can do this a million times over to explore the complete distribution of outcomes possible.

The experience of Andrew motivated the development of stronger building codes in Florida, and indeed, Florida has become a proving ground for what stronger building codes could achieve.  Through the experience and leadership of Miami-Dade County in establishing some of the best building codes for severe winds, and the subsequent success of those building codes in the Florida hurricanes of 2004 and 2005, we now have the evidence in real savings that can motivate other states to follow suit.  Going forward from here, the focus needs to be on implementation and enforcement of those strong codes.

And the science of building stronger has been taken even further in recent years.  There are now several full-scale testing laboratories in the Southeast that can test actual buildings in the realistic conditions of hurricane winds and rain.  It started with the establishment of the RenaissanceRe Wall of Wind at Florida International University, but has perhaps reached its full potential with the Research Center of the Institute for Business and Home Safety as well as a new Wall of Wind at Florida International University.  We don’t need to wait for another Andrew to devastate a city to understand what can be improved in our building stock – we are using these full scale testing laboratories to identify the best building and mitigation practices going forward.   Through numerical simulation and physical testing laboratories, a closer integration of meteorology and wind-engineering has increased our understanding of the risk of hurricane catastrophes.  Because the robust foundation now exists, the effects of climate change can be explored.

In my own career, first as a catastrophe risk consultant, then providing insurance coverage for properties at risk, and now leading an elite team of scientists, a significant evolution has been the integration of the science into business decisions.  More than ever before, the statistics of hurricane risk are communicated directly to corporate boards.  Because this risk is better quantified, managers and property owners are now making investments towards resilience in the face of this continuing threat to our coastal states.   At WeatherPredict we are acutely aware of the positive impacts that natural catastrophe science can have on making communities more resilient.  We recognize the unique privilege we have in working on problems that affect so many people and of course this drives our passion for connecting our capabilities to real world decisions.

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