New suburban laboratory conducts tests to help save lives during severe weather

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A new laboratory aimed at saving lives during tornadoes and hurricanes opened its doors in north suburban Northbrook Tuesday.

FOX 32’s Larry Yellen reports on the testing that is being done to make homes and offices survive the worst that Mother Nature has to offer.

A "lumbermissile" is an eight foot long two-by-four that weighs nine pounds. However, it can get tossed around like a toothpick during a tornado. Residents of Coal City and Fairdale can vouch for that.

On Tuesday at Underwriters Laboratories, engineers fired several such missiles at over 34 miles per hour to see which building products could survive a direct hit.

“There are about 60 deaths by flying or falling debris every year caused by severe storms, so what we're doing here is very exciting,” said UL engineer Carol Smith.

What they were doing was cutting the ribbon on Underwriters new Building Envelope Performance Test Lab. The engineers view homes and high-rises as envelopes sealed by their windows, walls and doors. And tornados and hurricanes put those seals to the test.

“What we're looking at is will the structure, the window, the door, the wall, whatever it is, stand up to that kind of abuse?” said UL Consumer Safery Director John Drengenberg.

The wind driven rains delivered at the lab are the equivalent of a storm delivering eight inches of rainfall per hour, in 50 mile per hour winds.

To simulate a category five tornado, the winds can be ramped up to 300 miles per hour, and that missile fired at 100 miles per hour.

“Tornado-safe rooms in the past were concrete walls with heavy steel doors. so now the industry is ramping it up and they're doing glass walls that'll pass the hundred mile an hour to qualify for a tornado safe room,” said engineer manager Wayne Breighner.

As for what you can do, Underwriters says don't open your windows or doors during high wind events and take cover in a safe place, often the middle part of your basement. If you don't have a basement, pick an interior space without windows.