New Podcast: Dr. Anne Cope on Science That Makes Us #HurricaneStrong

Have you ever heard that closing your doors can limit damage in a windstorm? Do you know how many bathtubs worth of wind-driven water comes through an unprotected roof? Can you explain why something as innocuous as a soffit is relevant to the fate of your home? And, by the way, what exactly is a soffit?

If you want answers to these questions and more, this is the podcast for you.

Anne-Cope

Dr. Anne Cope, Chief Engineer, IBHS

My guest this week for Strong Homes, Safe Families! is Anne Cope, Ph.D., PE, Chief Engineer at the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS). Anne is a member of the FLASH Technical Advisory Council, fellow UF Gator, and a great friend. We cover a lot of topics in this recording from science to policy and policy to practice, and I am sure you will find her engaging style not only enjoyable but insightful too.

This information is part of our effort to demystify the basics of a #HurricaneStrong home, so you and your family are ready when the next threat comes. Check out some topic highlights and timecodes below, but I recommend that you hit play, sit back, and enjoy!

  • How a passion for science created a professional journey. (0:54)
  • The importance of garage doors. (4:16)
  • Surprise! Research shows how shutting doors will limit damage. (5:28)
  • After ten years, what’s on tap at the IBHS lab? (7:41)
  • Ninety-percent of the time, significant house damage begins with garage door failure. (9:52)
  • Soffits: What do we need to know about the roof’s Achilles heel? (13:30)
  • Tech Tools and Toys: Practical use of drones to detect problems. (17:31)
  • Public Policy: Building codes, resilience, and the sealed roof deck. (19:37)
  • Water Intrusion: How much water can a hurricane push through your roof? Hint: we’re talking in terms of bathtubs. (20:15)
  • Natural Disaster Research, Reports, and Risk Communication: Find the findings and shine a light on them. (23:41)

Combined IBHS Lab and Fan Image

Click here to listen to this week’s Strong Homes, Safe Families! podcast episode, and don’t forget to subscribe, rate, share, and provide a review on iTunes. Don’t miss these helpful resources and links too:

Dr. Anne Cope – Biography (Here)
The IBHS Lab (Here)
Research on value of shutting doors (Here)
Research on garage doors (Here)
Roof Strengthening Checklist (Here)
Soffit Strengthening Checklist (Here)
Protecting Openings – Shutter Types/Cost Checklist (Here)

Just in case you missed our previous Strong Homes, Safe Families! episodes:

  1. #HurricaneStrong and the 2020 Season feat. National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham
  2. The Scoop on Hurricane Shutters feat. Tim Robinson, Managing Partner of Global Protection Products and President of the International Hurricane Protection Association
  3. Skills + Supplies Today = Safety and Survival Tomorrow feat. Sean Reilly, District Manager for Lowe’s along North and South Carolina coast-between Myrtle Beach and Morehead City
  4. #HurricaneStrong Home Hacks that Save Time and Money feat. Bill Ferimer, Lowe’s Store Manager in Wilmington, North Carolina
  5. Have an Insurance Checkup and Make Your Policy #HurricaneStrong feat. Amanda Chase, State Farm Insurance Agent in Winter Park, Florida
  6. Take Steps Today for a Smooth Hurricane Claim Process Tomorrow feat. Elizabeth Gulick, VP of Claims Operations for USAA

New Podcast: Take Steps Today for a Smooth Hurricane Claim Process Tomorrow

Hurricane season is here. Are you fully prepared by having the right insurance? Do you have a home inventory to go along with your policy? Did you know that a detailed written, photographic, or video inventory of your belongings is the most effective way to plan for a claim?

Elizabeth Gulick

Elizabeth Gulick, VP of Claims Operations – USAA

This week’s Strong Homes, Safe Families! expert guest is Elizabeth Gulick, Vice President of Claims Operations for USAA and member of the FLASH Board of Directors. Elizabeth shares her experience on the best way to create a home insurance inventory and much more. She highlights consumer protection safeguards to follow as you’re going through the repair and rebuilding process, and many critical steps to ensure you’re ready should it happen ever again.

With Elizabeth’s excellent insights and our newest checklist (click here), you can ensure any future claims run smoothly. When you do, you will be on your way to #HurricaneStrong.

Topics:

  • After thirty-plus years responding to disasters (1:40), what is it like after a catastrophe strikes? (2:55)
  • Recover, Rebuild, Resolve: Understanding USAA’s commitment to resilience (4:25)
  • How does the insurance claim process work? (7:19)
  • What are some tips for choosing a contractor? (9:31)
  • What is a home inventory, and why is it critical? (11:14)
  • What are the five steps to help prepare for a claim? (11:38)
  • Now that the claim is complete, what do I do next? (15:56)

Click here to listen to this week’s Strong Homes, Safe Families! podcast episode, and don’t forget to subscribe, rate, share, and provide a review on iTunes. You can learn more about insurance and mitigation by downloading A Homeowners Insurance Guide to Natural Disasters or emailing your questions to info@flash.org today.

Just in case you missed our previous Strong Homes, Safe Families! episodes:

  1. #HurricaneStrong and the 2020 Season feat. National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham
  2. The Scoop on Hurricane Shutters feat. Tim Robinson, Managing Partner of Global Protection Products and President of the International Hurricane Protection Association
  3. Skills + Supplies Today = Safety and Survival Tomorrow feat. Sean Reilly, District Manager for Lowe’s along North and South Carolina coast-between Myrtle Beach and Morehead City
  4. #HurricaneStrong Home Hacks that Save Time and Money feat. Bill Ferimer, Lowe’s Store Manager in Wilmington, North Carolina
  5. Have an Insurance Checkup and Make Your Policy #HurricaneStrong feat. Amanda Chase, State Farm Insurance Agent in Winter Park, Florida

New Podcast: Have an Insurance Checkup and Make Your Policy #HurricaneStrong

Are you in the dark about what your insurance policy will provide after a hurricane? Did you know that you may have coverage for food that spoils when the power fails even if your home isn’t damaged? Moreover, did you know that food spoilage coverage is often deductible-free?

Are you aware that a special, separate policy is required to cover flood? Did you know that flood policies have a 30-day waiting period? Will your coverage limits provide enough to repair and rebuild if your home is damaged?

These are the kinds of questions that you can answer during an annual insurance checkup to keep your policy current and keep you in the know before hurricanes strike.

Amanda Chase

Amanda Chase, State Farm Agent

This week’s Strong Homes, Safe Families! podcast interview and checklist (click here) focus on the insurance checkup or annual review—your way to make your policy #HurricaneStrong. My expert guest for this podcast is Amanda Chase, a State Farm insurance agent in Winter Park, Florida.

Topics Include:

  • Financial Security: Having the resources to repair and recover from hurricanes
  • Insurance Checkup: Review policies, obtain advice on coverage and updates
  • Hurricane Deductibles: How they work, when they kick in
  • Understand Exclusions and Eliminate Surprises: What a policy pays for (and doesn’t)
  • Capitalize on Building Codes: Save money on insurance with discounts for good building practices, safety features and more
  • Consumer Survey and COVID-19: More ready to get prepared to shelter at home safely
  • Power Outage Coverage: Reimbursement for loss of use and food spoilage
  • Control Uncontrollables: Know answers to questions to not fear the unknown

Click here to listen to this week’s Strong Homes, Safe Families! podcast episode, and don’t forget to subscribe, rate, share, and provide a review on iTunes. Learn more about insurance and mitigation by downloading A Homeowners Insurance Guide to Natural Disasters or emailing your question to info@flash.org.

New Podcast: #HurricaneStrong Home Hacks that Save Time and Money

Strengthening our homes for hurricane season to ensure damage prevention is more important than ever this year due to COVID-19 and the potential need for social distancing.

This week’s Strong Homes, Safe Families! podcast, checklists (click here), and feature video (click here) provide information about affordable ways to get your home #HurricaneStrong, so you and your family are ready for the already-busy season.

6-6-20 Soffits Fan Graphic Twitter V2

My guest expert for this podcast discussion is Bill Ferimer, Lowe’s Store Manager in Wilmington, North Carolina. This 15-minute discussion will get you well on your way.

 

Bill Ferimer

Bill Ferimer, Store Manager – Lowe’s

Topics Include:

  • Resilience: How to remain #HurricaneStrong, and bounce back from natural disasters
  • Damage Prevention – Steps to weather the wind and water:
    • Roof: Use caulking inside the attic for added strength
    • Soffits: Use caulking to ensure that soffits stay in place when it matters most
    • Openings: Use hurricane shutters to protect doors and windows
  • Timing: Prepare for hurricanes now and take strengthening your home seriously
  • #HurricaneStrong Survey: Increased intent to prepare
  • Projectiles: Around the yard, remove or anchor items such as swing sets to prevent damage
  • Gutters and Downspouts: Clean, clear, and functioning properly to direct water flow
  • Prep Kits: Must-haves include gutter tools, tarps, nails, hammers, ladders, buckets, chainsaws, and necessary accessories
  • Sandbags: Redirect stormwater and debris away from your home

How to Clean Gutters Image

Click here to listen to this week’s Strong Homes, Safe Families! podcast episode, and don’t forget to subscribe, rate, share, and provide a review on iTunes.

New Podcast: Skills + Supplies Today = Safety and Survival Tomorrow

What’s in your hurricane supply kit? Do you have what you need to make repairs after a storm? Can you safely operate a generator? How about a chainsaw?

5-27-20 Disaster Supply Checklist Graphic Final

This week’s podcast with checklists (click here) and videos provides the refresher you need to make sure you are #HurricaneStrong and ready for the June 1 start of hurricane season. My guest expert for this discussion on episode three of Strong Homes, Safe Families! is Sean Reilly, District Manager for Lowe’s along North and South Carolina coasts⁠—between Myrtle Beach and Morehead City. In this interview, Sean talks about the importance of individual and family preparedness by having adequate disaster know-how, supplies, and equipment.

Sean Reilly

Sean Reilly, District Manager – Lowe’s

Topics Include:

  • Front and Center: Sean’s fair share of storm experiences and hurricane challenges
  • Store Environment: Hurricane watches and potential for landfall sets the mood
  • People and Preparation: Lowe’s guides customers, associates, and communities
  • Think Outside the Box/Kit: People tend to forget other essentials, including a home battery phone charger, extra gasoline, and charcoal or propane to cook food
  • Sentimental Storage: Save pictures, videos, and documentation in waterproof areas
  • Equipment: Know how to safely use portable generators, chainsaws, and other tools

Generator with ButtonChainsaw with button

 

 

 

Please click here to listen to this week’s episode.

For those of you in Florida, don’t forget the Florida Disaster Preparedness Sales Tax Holiday is Friday, May 29 through Thursday, June 4, so it’s a great time to save on your supplies. If you’re stocking up at Lowe’s, look for the #HurricaneStrong signs in the store or visit www.HurricaneStrong.org to learn more.  

5-27-20 Lowe's Signage

 

New Podcast: The Scoop on Hurricane Shutters

Capture

Before Mother Nature heads your way, are you prepared for hurricane season? My guest for Episode Two on Strong Homes, Safe Families! is Tim Robinson, managing partner of Global Protection Products and president of the International Hurricane Protection Association. In this interview Tim tells us everything you need to know to choose the right hurricane shutters for your home.

Topics Include:

  • About Tim: Firefighter, businessman, and philanthropist
  • Opening Protection: Windows, glass doors, and older openings
  • Code/Testing Requirements: Change is inevitable when building impact-rated products
  • Two Test Types: Wind cycle and impact resistance to approve products
  • Options: What are they? How are they mounted? How much do they cost?
  • Galvanized steel vs. aluminum panel
  • Clear or polycarbonate storm panel
  • Fabric panel
  • Accordion shutter
  • Roll-up shutter
  • Hinged-colonial or Bahama shutter
  • ROI: Insurance savings and discounts
  • Lessons Learned: No matter what shutter system is selected, maintain it regularly

Please click here to listen to this week’s episode and don’t miss our new Hurricane Shutter Comparison Checklist (click here).

Tim RobinsonTim Robinson, Managing Partner – Global Protection Products 

New Podcast: NHC Director Ken Graham – Getting #HurricaneStrong Ahead of the 2020 Season

Ken Graham
Ken Graham, Director – National Hurricane Center

Are you prepared to protect your family and home before hurricane season hits? Will you be able to bounce back swiftly? My guest this week on Strong Homes, Safe Families! is Ken Graham from the National Hurricane Center in Miami, and he shares plenty of insights about how to stay safe.

Ken and I talk about the science, public policy, and practice of being better prepared for hurricanes, including a discussion of COVID-19. Please click here to listen to this week’s episode.

Topics Include:

  • Rising Water Evacuation: Why and when Ken decided to become a meteorologist
  • Disaster Resilience: Bouncing back to recover quickly from a hurricane is possible
  • Science: Meteorological breakthrough with track forecast and ability to narrow errors
  • Public Policy: Best practices to be resilient by knowing when and where to evacuate
  • Practice: Risk communication, perception, decision-making, and other human factors
  • Tech Tools: People flee storms, but hurricane hunters use technology to collect data
  • Preparation: Positive impact due to COVID-19 pandemic

“Little wiggles in the forecast matter. Everyone listening needs to understand that a 20- or 40-mile wiggle can make the difference to someone on the ground experiencing a foot of storm surge or maybe ten of feet storm surge.” – Ken Graham

LCH and Ken Graham

National Weather Service New Orleans/Baton Rouge team members, Ken Graham, and Leslie Chapman-Henderson strike the #HurricaneStrong “Pose”

Reviewing the 2017 Disaster Season – Hurricane Irma

This is the fifth installment of posts that make up our new commentary paper entitled, “Learning from the 2017 Disasters to Create a Reliably Resilient U.S.” The full commentary will be shared on June 1 to mark the beginning of the 2018 hurricane season.

Irma made initial landfall in the Florida Keys on September 10, and then moved north up Florida’s Gulf Coast. Models showed that the storm was headed directly for Miami but it took a turn to the west that helped it avoid a direct hit.[i] Irma was almost as large as the state of Texas, and both Florida coasts felt hurricane-force winds.[ii] Irma destroyed an estimated 95% of buildings in parts of St. Martin, and devastated parts of St. Barts and the Virgin Islands.[iii] The Florida Keys and the southwestern Florida coastline experienced damage, and flooding occurred in already oversaturated parts of Florida and southern Georgia.[iv] Irma’s eyewall passed north of Puerto Rico knocking out power in an eerie foreshadowing of the direct hit by Maria later the same month.

Irma had a widespread impact on the power grid, resulting in 16 million people across the southeastern U.S., mostly in Florida, losing power.[v]

What We Knew

We knew the need to prepare for power outages, including the critical messages surrounding safe operation of generators to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. Tragically, carbon monoxide deaths occurred, and deaths from heat exhaustion occurred as well. The most shocking cases included the deaths of twelve residents of a South Florida nursing home located across the street from a hospital.

We knew that homes in Florida could be subjected to hurricane winds, even inland. In 2004, Hurricane Charley cut across the middle of the state to wreak havoc on Central Florida, toppling 10,000 trees in Orlando alone. However, Irma was unique in how it covered the state in forecast projections. The omnipresent storm threat made it extremely difficult for families to make evacuation judgments and plan their routes, especially as the forecast track shifted.

Regardless of the typical difficultly brought by a shifting track, evacuation in areas subject to storm surge should be automatic, no questions asked. “Run from the water” is the adage. Anticipating wind damage makes the evacuation calculus a little trickier.

During Irma, many families were unsure if their home was strong enough to endure the potential category 3, 4, or 5 storm. Those with homes built since the new Florida Building Code, March 2002 and after, were more confident. However, forecasters have a difficult time pinpointing the exact location where a hurricane will make landfall until it is generally too late to evacuate. Further, many people do not know when their home was built or to what standard. We believe this was part of why thousands of Floridians evacuated. And, as the entire state was in the shadow of the potential Irma landfall, most headed north and found themselves in heavy traffic.

Charley, Irma, and many other hurricanes have repeatedly proven that storms can affect any area of Florida. That is why we believe that all Florida homes should be built to withstand hurricanes. Imagine the confidence and ease that thousands of families would have enjoyed if they knew, with certainty, how their home would perform under high-wind conditions. Moreover, imagine the reduction in community upheaval that the confident, in situ population would enjoy.

The current Florida Building Code is strong, and it appears that buildings built to meet the Florida Building Code performed well. The Florida Keys may have experienced a test of the code by experiencing nearly the design level (the highest wind speeds that the building code is designed to withstand), but most of Florida did not experience design-level wind speeds.

Nonetheless, newer homes performed better as they were without the roof degradation caused by the Florida sun and heat, and the materials were less worn overall.

This makes the building code story in Florida very ironic. The newspapers celebrated the strong homes that survived, crediting the strong Florida building codes. Fast-forward five years or more, and this success may not be replicated due to the legislative change made in 2017 and described in our post on May 1 entitled, The Build-Destroy-Rebuild Barrier to Resilience. Florida is now statutorily-destined to steadfastly fall behind and miss out on innovations that could help lessen damage in years to come.

This policy outcome was a clear case of myopia. The short-sighted focus on the minor administrative costs of maintaining an updated building code won out against the long-term safety benefits. And amnesia. Florida had gone a long time without experiencing a severe hurricane threat.

Irma brought devastation to the Florida Keys, but we cannot forget the devastation Irma brought to the Caribbean.[vi] These outcomes should serve as a reminder to the rest of Florida and the U.S., that Irma’s impact could have been so much worse if early predictive models had come to fruition.

How We Are Moving Forward

Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and Hurricane Irma in 2017 had the potential to bring wide scale, utter devastation to Florida. Fortunately, neither storm lived up to its full forecast potential, even though there were disastrous and catastrophic impacts for many who suffered death, injury, anxiety, fear, flooding, damaging winds, and power outages.

As such, we must work harder and more creatively to convey the risk at any level to individuals, families, businesses, and leaders while we simultaneously convey the simple and economical things that can be done to protect both people and buildings.

As discussed in the last blog post about Hurricane Harvey, the most powerful and economical thing to do to protect people and buildings is to adopt minimum building standards through use of a modern building code. Minimum codes should be uniformly in place in every community as they deliver premier consumer protection against natural disasters losses and a means to ensure everyday safety and durability as well.

Transparency is one of the strongest tools for improved consumer fairness. We believe that is exactly what is needed in the building code policy arena. In an earlier blog, we referenced survey findings that identified a gap between consumer understanding of building performance in disasters and building codes. In the same survey, we also identified high consumer expectations of builders and leaders regarding disaster resilience. What this tells us is that while consumers may not always understand the direct correlation between building codes and improved building performance in disasters, they do have a strong expectation of their leaders to keep them safe. Perhaps we can close the gap between consumer expectations and resilience policy leadership by adding these insights to the growing body of powerful economic studies that demonstrate the return on investment of mitigation.

Many local leaders already understand their community’s expectations as well as the economic case, and some are acting by preventing further degradation of sound building code policies.

In 2018, while Florida leaders did not reverse the negative building code legislation that weakened the system in 2017, they did reject H.B. 299, a measure proposed by the homebuilding industry that would have weakened the quality and integrity of the Florida Building Commission. The unsuccessful measure proposed to shrink the body by eliminating many of the seats for relevant specialty professions that currently serve.

Additionally, the Florida Legislature passed legislation requiring every nursing home and assisted living facility in Florida to have emergency generators.[vii]

In the Florida Keys where Irma’s high winds did the most damage, local leaders in Monroe County have pushed for a new regulation to require all roofs be constructed using wind-resistant metal. The Monroe County Board of County Commissioners discussed this issue during its January 17, 2018 meeting.

Another positive trend is that flood insurance sales are increasing and private flood insurance offerings are growing, albeit at a very modest pace. This is only possible due to law changes that allow for private companies to participate.

Perhaps the best model of resilience leadership is in North Florida where Leon County experienced damage and extensive power outages from Hurricane Hermine in 2016. In 2017, the North Florida county (my home) was briefly predicted to endure a direct hit from Hurricane Irma.

Following those experiences, Leon County Government leaders identified the desire to advance resilience and partnered with FLASH to explore available programs and initiatives to accomplish same. Through the collaboration, we identified the opportunity to prototype a #HurricaneStrong community by benchmarking against existing, objective and subjective criteria of various resilience elements, including the following:

  • Engaged Leadership (Elected Officials, Staff)
  • Current, model building codes adopted/enforced
  • Excellent BCEGS rating (1-4)
  • Excellent Floodplain Management/CRS Rating
  • Widespread Community Awareness/Outreach (multiple programs)
  • NOAA/NWS StormReady Designation
  • Resilient Businesses/Organizations – Completion of the FEMA/FLASH Ready Business Workshops and protocols
  • Resilient School Systems

Through the initiative, Leon County Government has expanded public outreach programming, invested in the Ready Business workshop effort, and is serving as an ambassador to other communities to raise awareness and provide support to engage community leaders across the state and country.

We announced this initiative in March at the National Hurricane Conference, and nearly a dozen additional communities came forward to pursue the honorary designation. We see this as another positive indication of leadership intentions regarding resilience, and we look forward to highlighting these leaders and sharing the news as the next #HurricaneStrong communities come online.

[i] Kevin Loria and Dave Mosher. Sept. 11, 2017. “Irma is finally leaving Florida and now hammering Georgia – here’s the latest.” Business Insider. http://www.businessinsider.com/hurricane-irma-strength-category-forecast-updates-2017-9

[ii] Kevin Loria and Dave Mosher. Sept. 11, 2017. “Irma is finally leaving Florida and now hammering Georgia – here’s the latest.” Business Insider. http://www.businessinsider.com/hurricane-irma-strength-category-forecast-updates-2017-9

[iii] Kevin Loria and Dave Mosher. Sept. 11, 2017. “Irma is finally leaving Florida and now hammering Georgia – here’s the latest.” Business Insider. http://www.businessinsider.com/hurricane-irma-strength-category-forecast-updates-2017-9

[iv] Lori Rozsa. Sept. 15, 2017. “In north Florida, Hurricane Irma made tranquil waters angry and dangerous.” The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2017/09/15/in-north-florida-hurricane-irma-made-tranquil-waters-angry-and-dangerous/?utm_term=.f3341d2ba6ba

[v] Joel Achenbach, et al. Sept. 17, 2017. “Hurricanes Harvey and Irma offer sobering lessons in the power of nature.” The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/hurricanes-harvey-and-irma-offer-sobering-lessons-in-the-power-of-nature/2017/09/17/b6ac46e6-9951-11e7-87fc-c3f7ee4035c9_story.html?utm_term=.43a2adb026de

[vi] Sept. 7, 2017. “Hurricane Irma wreaks apocalyptic damage in the Caribbean.” The Washington Post. http://www.nola.com/hurricane/index.ssf/2017/09/hurricane_irma_caribbean_damag.html

[vii] Mar. 26, 2018. “Gov. Scott Signs Legislation Requiring Emergency Generators at All Florida Nursing Homes and Assisted Living Facilities.” https://www.flgov.com/2018/03/26/gov-scott-signs-legislation-requiring-emergency-generators-at-all-florida-nursing-homes-and-assisted-living-facilities/.

Human Biases – Barriers or Boosts to Resilience?

Businessman with his head in the sand

This is the third installment from our new commentary, “Learning from the 2017 Disasters to Create a Reliably Resilient U.S.” In this discussion, we apply risk communication insights to understand biases that block progress in the disaster safety movement.

 

What can explain the above cases where facts and experience clearly show that we need to change how we prepare to respond, survive, and recover from disaster, yet resilience policy isn’t embraced? Is there a more effective way to communicate risk and support the behaviors that drive resilience? Through the cross-disciplinary body of literature and research on disaster resilience and social science, a powerful insight is provided by an examination of the role of biases.

In 2017, The Ostrich Paradox by Robert Meyer and Howard Kunreuther[i] identified six core biases that affect disaster preparedness. We applaud the authors for their clear presentation of the information, and we suggest it can serve as a powerful risk communication primer. The authors provide information about the biases, insight on how to conduct a behavioral risk audit to understand the psychological biases that inhibit adoption, and then propose policies that work with, not against, natural psychologies.

Here are the six core biases identified in The Ostrich Paradox alongside the suggested approaches the authors offer to overcome same:

  1. Myopia: a tendency to focus on overly short future time horizons when appraising immediate costs and the potential benefits of protective investments;
    • Remedy: tactics and incentives that lower the short-term costs of preparation
  2. Amnesia: a tendency to base decisions on most recent experiences, overlooking lessons of the past
    • Remedy: communication tactics that correct distorted memories of the past
  3. Optimism: a tendency to underestimate the likelihood of personal harm
    • Remedy: communication tactics that enhance beliefs about hazard likelihoods and impacts
  4. Inertia: a tendency to maintain the status quo or adopt a default option when there is uncertainty about the potential benefits of investing in alternative protective measures;
    • Remedy: policies that make safer actions the default in each setting
  5. Simplification: a tendency to process only limited subsets of information
    • Remedy: policies that simplify the set of preparedness choices faced by individuals
  6. Herding: a tendency to make decisions by social imitation.
    • Remedy: tactics designed to foster stronger social norms of safety

The authors make a compelling case for factors to consider in communicating with the public in harm’s way. Their approach resonated with us particularly well as our nonprofit organization was formed twenty years ago to drive a “social value” for disaster safety. Our strategies and tactics confront and leverage the bias they label “herding.” Others label it “milling.” In our efforts, we call it “social norming”.

Prior to the return of frequent, land-falling major hurricanes striking the U.S. in 2016, raising public awareness and promoting leadership action on hurricane preparedness and mitigation policy was becoming difficult. Some states decided to skip building code update cycles, and others defunded public awareness programs. Many retailers stopped hosting hurricane expositions, and the consensus inside stakeholder circles was that “Hurricane Amnesia” had set in.

To address the problem, FLASH brought together representatives from academia, big data organizations, broadcast meteorology, FEMA, NOAA, insurance companies, product manufacturers, news organizations, and risk communication groups to identify potential solutions. Together, we created the “National Hurricane Resilience Initiative” as an open-source, umbrella effort to align messaging and timing and get everyone on the “same page” with five common, key messages to promote and elevate hurricane resilience.

  • Personal Safety – Know your evacuation zone
  • Financial Security – Have an insurance check-up
  • Family Preparedness – Build a disaster supply kit
  • Damage Prevention – Strengthen your home
  • Community Service – Help your neighbor

The timing alignment included moving the annual NOAA Hurricane Awareness Tour (HAT) to line up with the White House declaration of “National Hurricane Preparedness Week.” The initiative also included creation of a new national event and social media campaign entitled #HurricaneStrong.

Now in its third year, the campaign has reached millions, including governors, mayors, corporate leaders, celebrities, and citizens. Through participation, they learned that to be #HurricaneStrong, you must start with the five key steps listed above.

Since the launch in May of 2016, the #HurricaneStrong campaign has created a simple, common language and “call to arms” to drive buy-in. It has drawn tens of thousands of leaders and citizens to events and reached millions more through traditional news and social media outreach.

The initiative inspired The Weather Channel to sign on as the national media partner and offer free Public Service Announcements aired during prime hurricane season slots. One home improvement store offered workshops in 700 stores, simultaneously, on a single day during the official “week,” and it successfully ignited creative spinoff volunteer events from San Antonio to Norfolk at Walmart stores, minor league baseball games, festivals, and more.

Our experience shows that organizing our collective messaging “act” is only the first step of many more that we need to take to get ahead of the audience’s needs.

Editor’s Note: Our fourth installment will present a detailed review of the 2017 disasters with insights on early actions taken to break the cycle and build back better. We look forward to your comments and input on this critical topic.

[i] Robert Meyer and Howard Kunreuther. 2017. The Ostrich Paradox: Why We Underprepare for Disasters. The Wharton School. University of Pennsylvania. Wharton Digital Press.   

Learning from the 2017 Disasters to Create a Reliably Resilient U.S.

4-25-18 Blog Image

Understanding the deadly disaster outbreak to disrupt the “Build-Destroy-Rebuild” cycle and forever improve the quality of life for communities in harm’s way.

On May 2, 1935, Winston Churchill stated, “Want of foresight, unwillingness to act when action would be simple and effective, lack of clear thinking, confusion of counsel until the emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong – these are the features which constitute the endless repetition of history.”

George Santayana put it even more simply in 1905, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

These wise words are generally accepted, yet, when it comes to taking proven steps to create resilience in the face of natural disasters, we often fail to act. Perhaps the best example is whether we adopt and enforce the latest model building codes.

Building failure investigations have proven again and again that codes are the first and most important line of defense from natural disasters, yet far too many communities overlook this proven tool to ensure swift and successful “bounce back” after earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, or wildfires. The breakdown not only occurs before the disasters strike, but often during disaster recovery as well.

This sets up a cycle known as “Build-Destroy-Rebuild” where we build either without codes or with outdated codes, then natural disasters destroy our buildings, and we then rebuild them the same way, thereby perpetuating the cycle.

We have worked as a disaster safety and resilience movement for many years to overcome this problem, and we have enjoyed clear successes. But is there a more systematic way to accomplish our goals? Is this breakdown as simple as a communication problem? Do leaders and homeowners simply not know how important codes are to survivability from the storm?

We researched this question through a national survey during the first quarter of 2018 and validated that, yes, it may be that straightforward. Our findings indicated that while many homeowners were “very” or “extremely” concerned about the impacts of natural disasters, most admitted they did not understand the linkage between building codes and disaster resilience. Further, most incorrectly assumed that they already had adequate building codes in place and enforced in their communities. Finally, when asked how they would feel to learn they did not have codes at all, 67 percent reported they would be “extremely” or “very concerned” to learn that their home was built without the benefit of building codes and standards.

Building codes, standards, and floodplain regulation policies are complex and removed from everyday life. Typical consumers are not involved when key decisions are made. Even elected officials may be somewhat separated from the details as they balance limited resource allocation in the face many competing, more near-term priorities and rely on the technical expertise of others.

Our survey findings support this assumption and make it clear that there is a gap between public understanding of the link between building performance in disasters and the presence of well-enforced, modern building codes. With that in mind, we have written a new commentary reviewing last year’s “season of disasters.” As part of the review, we examine ways to move science and policy findings into practice with a special focus on improved risk communication.

We will be sharing our new commentary by publishing installments via this blog during the coming weeks as we countdown to May 1, the beginning of Building Safety Month and the May 7 kickoff of the 2018 National Hurricane Resilience Initiative – #HurricaneStrong.

Please follow us here for this critical conversation about the often-overlooked foundation of resilience: building codes and standards. If we learned anything last year, it is that we must break the “Build-Destroy-Rebuild” cycle. When we do, our communities will avoid a deadly and costly catastrophe history and provide a safer future for those who reside in harm’s way.