BY EVAN S. BENN
The state is giving Florida International University $10 million — and the school plans to throw the money into the wind.
The university’s International Hurricane Research Center will use the grant to develop its Wall of Wind, a massive wind tunnel that can simulate Category 4 hurricanes.
”We can build a two-story house and blow it down so we can better evaluate the windows, siding and roofing,” said Robert Epling, the research center’s board chairman and president of Community Bank of Florida. “The idea is to be able to develop relatively inexpensive products that people can use to harden their homes against hurricanes.”
The proposal ranked No. 1 out of 43 submitted from universities throughout Florida, Epling said. The projects competed for grant money to develop Centers of Excellence in Hurricane Damage Mitigation, with the goal being to fund scientific research that will create an economic benefit for the state.
FIU has been trying to build up its Wall of Wind program at its engineering center in West Miami-Dade County since last year. The original plan was to have the wind tunnel up and running at full strength by last summer.
With the $10 million award, the hurricane research center can now make the tunnel more powerful and hire a director to oversee the project. Epling said he expects preliminary testing to be under way within six months.
The university’s hurricane research center, under the leadership of director Steve Leatherman, also is moving forward on plans to construct a $15 million building next to the National Hurricane Center on FIU’s campus.
The Wall of Wind will consist of 18 fans, each five feet wide and able to shoot wind and water to simulate a Category 4 hurricane, with winds up to 155 mph.
”We’ve got 70-plus letters already from companies that want us to test their products in there,” Epling said. “It’s exciting. I think we’re going to be able to really help people protect their property and their belongings from hurricanes.”