When people think of the work done at insurance
companies, they probably picture actuaries and underwriters
sitting at desks and crunching numbers.
But at some insurers, research labs, staffed by highly trained
scientists and engineers, play a vital if rarely seen role in
discovering ways to reduce losses caused by man-made and
NU, with our video camera in tow, visited three leading labs
at a trio of major carriers: Chubb, FM Global and Liberty Mutual.
While on site, we witnessed explosions, earthquakes, flammable-
liquid fires, the awesome force of hurricane winds and much
more. Liberty Mutual even let us get behind the wheel of one of
its training trucks to take on its treacherous test track.
While many of these scientific experiments are great fun to
experience firsthand, the efforts expended at the labs have an
unquestionably serious purpose: to develop innovative ways to
prevent losses and save the money—and lives—of policyholders.
The Land of Loss Prevention
With hard science (and the occasional fireball), FM Global’s gargantuan research campus
discovers innovative ways to reduce the risks that come with almost every conceivable natural
and man-made hazard; the company employs 1,800 engineers—and zero actuaries
BY BRYANT ROUSSEAU
AT FM GLOBAL’S 1,600-acre Global Research Campus in rural Rhode Island, the dress code doesn’t call for
suits and ties but hard hats, safety glasses
and lab coats. This is the appropriate wardrobe when your work involves dust-explosion bunkers, plywood-firing cannons, a
fire lab the size of a football field and an
earthquake-shake table that can go from
zero to 60 in one second.
Visitors quickly learn that the carrier—
one of the world’s largest property
insurers—takes its science very seriously:
M.I. T. serious. C.S.I. serious. Using “ 20 mega-
watt calorimeter” and “wet electrostatic
precipitator” in the same sentence serious.
As proof of the rewards of risk avoidance,
FM Global in 2011 issued $208 million
in membership credit to policyholders—
due, in large part, to clients’ diligent
loss-prevention efforts. Since 2001, it
has reduced the premiums for eligible
policyholders by approximately $1.7 billion
through such credits.
Need some numerical proof of FM
Global’s commitment to the science of
loss prevention? The 177-year-old mutual-insurance company employs more than
1,800 engineers in 120 countries—and not
a single actuary.
Much of the knowledge about property
protection that this global army of field
engineers uses to evaluate a building’s
risk profile, and to make risk-reduction
recommendations to clients, originates
from the research campus, where the
experiments and product evaluations are
conducted in four main laboratories spread