The Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety in South Carolina tests for the effects of rain, hailstorms and hurricanes up to Category 3. (Scott Iskowitz/IBHS)

Natural disasters can be scary. People have lost their lives and homes in floods, fires, tornadoes and earthquakes. We can’t stop these events from happening, but a new exhibit at the National Building Museum shows that we can minimize the damage.

“What makes the difference is what you do before,” said Chrysanthe Broikos, who was in charge of the museum’s “Designing for Disaster” exhibit. “But, a lot of times, we don’t want to think about it.”

The exhibit shows how we can plan for these disasters.

Preparation can be simple, such as stocking a home’s pantry with extra food, water and a radio. Kids can check out the gallery of emergency supplies and compare it with what’s at home. (Don't forget batteries!)

People who live in areas with frequent tornadoes could build a safe room with cinder-block walls and no windows. The exhibit features a model of a safe room and tells the story of an Alabama family that built such a room and escaped harm when a tornado touched down nearby.

A gallery in the "Designing for Disaster" exhibit at the National Building Museum shows a safe room that is built to withstand tornadoes. (National Building Museum)

But planning can also involve a lot of work by scientists, government officials, builders and engineers.

Florida International University built a panel of huge fans to test how well buildings withstand hurricane-force winds. A mini version of this Wall of Wind is part of the exhibit, so visitors can try to blow several kinds of roofs off a tiny house.

That part of the exhibit is fun. But if you’re looking to build a house, it also has a serious lesson.

“A simple roof design can make a big difference,” Broikos said.


What: “Designing for Disaster” exhibit

Where: National Building Museum, 401 F Street NW, Washington

When: Through August 2, 2015. Hours are Monday-Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

How much: $8 adults, $5 seniors and ages 3 to 17.

For more information: A parent can call 202-272-2448 or go to

— Christina Barron