Lessons From Hurricanes Past

It's still summer vacation on the Carolina and Florida coast Thursday, where Hurricane Dennis is still only a worry for the weekend.

But for those who have seen the dark side of hurricanes past, real preparations started months ago, reports CBS News Correspondent Byron Pitts.

Juan Perez will put up steel shutters if Dennis or Emily threaten his home in Homestead, Florida. Homestead was almost wiped off the map in 1992 by Hurricane Andrew -- a $30 billion disaster that researchers say would have done far less damage if houses had been better constructed.

For that reason Perez and nine of his neighbors are part of a new experiment. Their homes were retrofitted with metal girders and steal beams -- sturdy materials designed to withstand hurricane-force winds that can turn small objects into deadly missiles.

"Part of the thing of Andrew was ignorance," says Perez. "The hurricane was coming and a lot of people cried wolf so many times. But this time I feel that we're better prepared."

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Preparation for this latest wave of hurricanes includes research provided by Clemson University in South Carolina. Mobile wind towers, 33 feet tall, will be placed in the hurricane's path to measure wind speed.

Civil engineering professor Tim Reinhold says that information will be more accurate than wind estimates in the past.

"We're hoping we get a better picture of what the winds really were," says Reinhold. "We'll be able to improve buildings and put the strengths where they need to be."