What does a children's fairytale have to do with
research into hurricane damage?

Damage due to hurricanes and other windstorms has increased dramatically in recent years, incurring losses of life and property around the world; a point firmly reinforced by the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons.

Houses, being the most common structures, are the most significantly affected, with many experiencing structural damage and/or rain penetration. But what can be done about it? A new research project at the University of Western Ontario (UWO), dubbed the “Three Little Pigs” project after the children's story about the Big Bad Wolf who tries to blow down the pigs' homes, is currently underway. The aim of the study is to determine exactly how the “huffing and puffing”, by simulated winds of up to 200mph, eventually reduces a house to rubble.

In 2004, CA$6.8m was awarded from the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the Ontario Innovation Trust and various industrial partners to construct the facility. According to Gregory Kopp, associate professor and Canada research chair in wind engineering at UWO, in order to keep the cost of the project feasible, it was decided the project would replicate the effects of the wind, rather than reproduce the wind itself. To this end, a loading system based on high-powered fans, coupled with flow-reversing valves, was developed at Cambridge Consultants in the UK under the guidance of the team at UWO. Uplift loads of up to 400lbs per square foot, equivalent to the worst category 5 hurricane windspeeds, are able to be replicated. About 100 of these units are required to cover all surfaces of a typical two-storey house.

The overall goal is to develop anticipatory mitigation strategies to save people's homes (and other light frame structures) from the destructive environmental forces of nature.