Newsletter from 1938 shows FM Global to be resilience visionary

Climate resilience recommendations then and now

An above-normal Atlantic hurricane season has been predicted by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) because of record-warm sea surface temperatures. Hurricane season runs June through November and catastrophic storms have already destroyed buildings and wrought billions in damage. - FM Global, October 1938

That was the front page of an FM Global newsletter to clients more than 80 years ago featuring the obliterated roof of a factory in Rhode Island, USA—destroyed by a hurricane that barreled up the East Coast of the United States, slamming into Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Several hundred people died, and countless buildings were damaged or destroyed.

The U.S. National Weather Service called it the Great New England Hurricane, describing the storm as "one of the most destructive and powerful hurricanes in recorded history."

The historic newsletter shows FM Global had been advising businesses that they should prepare for a natural disaster, years before most risk managers worried about severe weather.

The publication takes readers back to a time when risk mitigation wasn’t as advanced and sophisticated as it is today. Most businesses in 1938 weren’t anchoring down roofs. Instead of being positively secured into place, companies thought gravity would hold down heavy wooden roofs made from old growth timber cut into two-inch (five-cm) planks.

Most loss is preventable

At that time—after surveying the damage—FM Global experts wrote the following in the newsletter: "Adequate roof anchorage is needed. Details of recommended anchorage have been made available to all members (clients) from time to time, and the need for such anchorage has been constantly urged (by the company)." The newsletter reveals there was little protection for windows shattered by flying debris, driven by sustained winds of 100 mph (160 km), gusting up to 186 mph (300 km).

"Wind moving across a roof creates suction that pulls it away from the building," says Brenda Mirabile, assistant vice president and senior engineering specialist at FM Global. "It's like wind passing over the wings of an airplane, creating lift and elevating the plane." Today we engineer resistance into roofs to mitigate the uplift pressure.

"In areas where windows are exposed to wind-borne debris, FM Global recommends the use of windows that have been tested for impact resistance using appropriate methods. For existing buildings, we recommend the installation of plywood or shutters over windows that cannot be replaced, as long as there is time to install them prior to the storm," Mirabile continues.

FM Global strategies have been founded on scientific research and extensive data gathered over almost two centuries of keeping clients resilient.

Simulated scenarios

It's one thing to warn people what might happen, it’s another to show them. Hard realities set in for those who visit our Research Campus or walk into FM Global’s resilience truck.

"We help clients understand the potential consequences of not being prepared. We can mimic damage from fires, hurricanes and other catastrophic events before they hit. This motivates risk managers to be prepared by incorporating our science- and research-based solutions," says Shangyao Nong, assistant vice president, senior research scientist.

“Today we engineer resistance into roofs to mitigate the uplift pressure.”

Brenda Mirabile, assistant vice president and senior engineering specialist at FM Global

"We have always identified and recommended ways to mitigate loss, and over the years our solutions have evolved and become much more sophisticated. What we have been able to accomplish helping our clients preserve the value of their businesses is astonishing," says Jessica Waters, vice president and hazards manager, climate and structural resilience.

FM Global's clients aren't the only ones relying on the company's expertise. Building code officials incorporate many of the company's standards into rules that make structures more sound and secure. "Based on our research and engineering, many building codes have also evolved and are now designed to help buildings more effectively withstand major storms," says Waters.

The 1938 hurricane was a wake-up call of sorts, demonstrating what happens to buildings that aren't prepared for severe weather. For nearly 200 years, FM Global has been making the case to its clients that most damage from catastrophic events can be avoided through risk mitigation solutions.

The company continues to advance and innovate ways to mitigate damage and preserve business value. Even though much has changed in the last century, many of FM Global's founding principles remain, as we found in this unearthed client newsletter from 1938.

New Climate Resilience Products

To keep businesses growing and going strong today, FM Global has developed a suite of climate resilience products. The suite includes products to identify climate risk at clients' visited locations, as well as the probability that those risks will occur by 2030 and by 2050. These products help clients prioritize risk improvement with engineering and research-based solutions.

Learn how these products can help

Related content

NatHaz Toolkit

Hurricane, Typhoon and Cyclone Loss Control Center

Contact an FM Global representative