With all of the recent tornado activity, the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology Subcommittees on Research and Technology held a hearing Wednesday morning to discuss ways to limit windstorm damage.
The hearing reviewed The National Windstorm Impact Reduction Act Reauthorization of 2013, a bill sponsored by Rep. Randy Neugebauer that aims "to achieve major measurable reductions in the losses of life and property from windstorms through a coordinated federal effort."
Three witnesses were invited to share their expertise on the subject: University of Florida assistant professor Dr. David Prevatt, insurance expert Debra Ballen and Dr. Ernst Kiesling from the Texas Tech National Wind Institute.
Each witness had five minutes to speak before fielding questions from the committee. They were trying to reach a consensus and help the United States be more prepared.
"One of the things that we know about wind, particularly in West Texas where I'm from, it can be your friend or it can be your foe," said Congressman Neugebauer. "We're basically trying to coordinate research that's going on and then make sure we commercialize and use that research."
It's estimated that 80 people are killed each year by tornadoes and 1,500 are injured. 2011 was the deadliest year on record with 551 deaths from tornadoes alone. And this is why people like Dr. Kiesling monitor tornadoes so closely, to find a way to control the effects of such a disaster.
"We need to know a lot more about not only the intensity but the rotation and the characteristics of extreme winds," he said. "If we design for a little bit more than we do such as 90, 100 mile per hour winds, that will save a lot of structures that are currently being destroyed."
Dr. Kiesling began working with the Wind Energy Research Program at Texas Tech in 1970, when an EF-5 tornado ripped through Lubbock.
He told the committee that right now, they receive the majority of funding after a storm hits, like the one in Moore, Oklahoma a couple weeks ago. He feels this is counterproductive and would like to establish a system of grants for this research to prepare for coming storms.
He says we can't divert storms, only reinforce existing buildings.
"It is possible to design occupant protection for the worst case tornado," he said. "Property damage can surely be evaded by improved building codes, by their enforcement. We have a tremendous problem in lack of enforcement because that is primarily done at the local level. We're doing good work in forecasting but need to convey a constituent message to the public as to how do you react and how do you respond."
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