The 12-fan Wall of Wind (WOW) at FIU is the largest and most powerful university research facility of its kind and is capable of simulating a Category 5 hurricane — the highest rating on the Saffir-Simspon Hurricane Wind Scale.

Florida International University unveiled the nation’s first university research facility capable of simulating Category 5 hurricane winds.

The 12-fan Wall of Wind is a major research project of FIU’s International Hurricane Research Center (IHRC), which was established, in part, with funds from the Hurricane Andrew We Will Rebuild effort. Additional funding from the state (including a Center of Excellence grant), the federal government (National Science Foundation and Department of Energy) and other private sources have supported the project over the years.

The inaugural demonstration today featured two structures, one built to the code in existence when Hurricane Andrew swept through South Florida 20 years ago this week and a second built to current South Florida code. The demonstration exposed the two structures to Andrew-like rain and wind.

“This facility in many ways is part of the Andrew legacy,” said Arindam Chowdhury, director of wind engineering research at the IHRC. “Here we come very close to recreating Andrew in a controlled environment so that we can help mitigate damage in our community and in all those communities in the path of hurricanes in the U.S. and around the world.”

In 1992, Hurricane Andrew caused an estimated $27 billion in damage in South Florida.

The Wall of Wind research team, under Chowdhury’s direction, has already had a significant impact in mitigating hurricane damage by enhancing building codes, validating innovative mitigation technologies, and developing new materials. In fact, the team has a patent pending for a new type of roofing material. Recommendations made as a result of Wall of Wind testing were published in the 2010 Florida Building Code. The new code provisions are geared toward decreasing the vulnerability of roofs and rooftop equipment.

With 700 horsepower behind each six-foot tall fan, the Wall of Wind can generate winds of up to 157 miles per hour. With a test section 15-feet high by 20-feet wide, the Wall of Wind allows researchers, businesses, government agencies and industry to test and analyze how structures and products perform in various hurricane conditions. The 12-fan Wall of Wind, is powered by electric fan-motor units and controlled by two variable frequency drives. The Wall of Wind was funded with a combination of private and public funding and came at a cost of approximately $8 million.

Today’s Wall of Wind has been more than five years in the making. In 2007, IHRC’s wind engineering team from FIU’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering assembled its prototype two-fan mobile unit, which could generate 120 mph winds with a water-injection system simulating horizontal rain. This paved the way for a bigger RenaissanceRe six-fan Wall of Wind, capable of generating up to 115 mph winds but able to engulf a single-story structure.