FIU’s hurricane research center, originally established after Andrew with private funding from the We Will Rebuild campaign in Miami-Dade, has expanded over the year with state, federal and private support from the insurance and roofing industries. In addition to construction and insurance, the center also studies social and environmental impacts of hurricanes.
The system FIU unveiled is the third version of its wall of wind, improving on a two-fan system first constructed in 2005 and a six-fan system follow-up in 2007. Those designs, powered by gasoline engines and airboat props, could produce 120 mph Category 3 winds and helped researchers test new construction techniques such as the “ring-shank’’ roofing nail that dramatically increases holding power.
The 12-fan system is far more powerful and sophisticated and the only university-based facility capable of generating Cat 5 wind speeds. An additional new feature, a large turntable that will allow researchers to rotate structures and more closely mimic the shifting winds of a hurricane, wasn’t used Tuesday.
Though researchers are still calibrating the system, Chowdhury said FIU has already used it to test some promising new construction designs. One using reinforced fiber and epoxy, much like fiberglass boat-building, to anchor trusses and beams proved stronger than metal hurricane clips, he said. The university is hoping to patent the technique and find a company to develop it.
Testing with the earlier versions of the wall of wind also helped develop metal screens that can cut wind pressures on rooftop equipment like air conditioners by 58 percent, a change quickly incorporated into Florida’s latest building code, he said — the first statewide upgrade generated by Wall of Wind research.
Chowdhury hopes the new, more powerful tool can help ensure that products billed as “hurricane-resistant’’ really perform that way under real world conditions.
“What we are doing here is more like holistic testing,’’ he said. “You’re not just testing individual components; you’re testing the entire system. That’s very important.’’