Days before the 20th anniversary of Hurricane Andrew, Florida International University's International Hurricane Research Center unveiled its Wall of Wind, a hurricane simulator powered by 12 turbines that can generate storms.
“Our Wall of Wind is the only university research facility in the world that generates Category 5-level wind speeds,” said Amir Mirmiran, the dean of engineering.
The Wall of Wind tests the hurricane resiliency of structures including private homes, warehouses and light poles.
“Now while the quality of the building construction has improved, and the building codes have improved significantly since Hurricane Andrew, over 70 percent of the housing in Florida were built before 1994 and are particularly vulnerable,” said Shahid S. Hamid, a professor in FIU's College of Business Administration.
The unveiling of the new facility included a live, high-speed demonstration that began with tropical storm force winds and culminated with a Category 5 storm. Researchers on Tuesday compared Florida building codes before and after Hurricane Andrew.
“We did start to see differences in the amount of failure, post-Andrew versus pre-Andrew,” said Erik Salna, the associate director of the hurricane research center. “In 20 years we’ve made a lot of changes in terms of the thickness of plywood, the way shingles are applied. Those rooftop components is what we say today come off in a much greater degree on the pre-Andrew roof than the post-Andrew roof.”
The goal of the Wall of Wind is to develop mitigation devices that can advance building codes for hurricane-resilient communities.
“This facility is unique in that it gives students hands-on tools to actually conduct meaningful research that can have a positive outcome on the communities that they live in,” said Jimmy Erwin, a research scientist at the school.