Federal program to reduce windstorm impacts requests comments on new strategic plan

Washington, D.C. — “Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now.” When time management guru Alan Lakein wrote these words, he likely didn’t have the National Windstorm Impact Reduction Program (NWIRP) in mind. But Lakein’s wisdom is exactly the approach of a new strategic plan for the program, a federal effort led by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to reduce loss of life and property from windstorms.

“This plan maps out a pathway to better understand, assess the impact from, and protect against windstorms,” said NIST’s Marc Levitan, acting NWIRP director. “It will help us achieve the vision that defines NWIRP, a nation that is windstorm-resilient in public safety and economic well-being.”

The plan details three overarching, long-term strategic goals for NWIRP, as well as the 14 key objectives and seven research priorities needed to facilitate their implementation and yield positive benefits.

Once implemented, the plan will guide and coordinate the windstorm impact reduction research, development, implementation, education and outreach activities conducted by NWIRP’s four member agencies.

The draft of the NWIRP strategic plan was released for a 60-day public comment period as detailed in the Federal Register.

Windstorms, most often in the forms of hurricanes and tornadoes, are the largest loss-producing natural hazard in the United States. From 1980 until today, windstorms have caused over $70 billion in economic losses and more than 4,500 deaths. In terms of property losses covered by insurance, 14 of the 15 costliest natural disasters in U.S. history were due to windstorms, 12 hurricanes and two tornado outbreaks.

To counter the devastation and bring those numbers significantly down, Congress created NWIRP, marshaling the expertise and resources of four federal agencies: NIST, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the National Science Foundation. Other federal agencies are invited to participate in NWIRP activities; among those already involved are the Federal Highway Administration, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the Department of Energy.

An example of how the NWIRP strategic plan is expected to work can be seen with ground-level winds from thunderstorm downbursts and tornadoes. Currently, little is known about the complex structure of these gusts close to the ground and their effects on buildings. “Since the first goal of our strategic plan is improving the understanding of windstorm processes and hazards, NWIRP efforts in this area would be focused on developing new instruments and obtaining field measurements to better characterize the ground-level wind phenomenon,” Levitan said.

The second goal, Levitan said, is to improve the understanding of how ground-level winds impact communities. “Knowing the gust characteristics for different storm types, we can design experiments using wind tunnels and computer models to more accurately determine their effects and loads on walls, roofs and other building components,” he explained.

Finally, with detailed insight into the makeup and behavior of ground winds, and rigorous test results defining how they impact structures, the third goal — improving the windstorm resilience of communities — can be met. “We will then be able to make solid recommendations for changes in building codes, standards and practices that can be applied nationwide,” Levitan said.

Comments on the draft NWIRP strategic plan are due by May 15, 2017, and may be submitted to NIST in three ways:

  • e-mail to nwirp@nist.gov;
  • fax to 301-869-6275; or
  • mail to NWIRP, Attn: Dr. Marc Levitan, NIST, 100 Bureau Dr., Stop 8611, Gaithersburg, MD 20899-8611.

For more information on NWIRP, go to the program website at https://www.nist.gov/el/materials-and-structural-systems-division-73100/national-windstorm-impact-reduction-program-nwirp.