Live from the National Hurricane Center – Tackling the Prep Paradox

If everything goes as planned, I’ll be at the National Hurricane Center in Miami tomorrow for a Satellite Media Tour with Director Dr. Rick Knabb. We’ll connect live with television, radio and online reporters, editors, correspondents and anchors through satellite link-ups. And they will, in turn, remind their audiences about the need to get ready now for flooding, high winds, hurricanes, and storm surge. We’ll be starting our 20 or so interviews before sunrise, including several segments with The Weather Channel. The “Tour” will last for about four hours.

We use media tours when the weather is quiet as they are a good way to get the public’s attention, but tomorrow should be even more effective because of the recent active tropical weather. Storms like BERTHA, ISELLE, and JULIO get the public’s attention because they showcase a pattern that plays out the same way each time. Those in the expected strike zone, (last week it was Hawaii), join in the frenzied, last-minute rush to the grocery and hardware stores to secure basic necessities while the rest of the world watches to see if they get hit by the hurricane.

This is the paradox that those of us in the disaster safety movement live with: we enjoy people’s rapt attention when storms brew, but often the public focus comes just as the window closes on the opportunity to mitigate storm effects. By the time they believe it can happen to them, it’s often too late to act on beneficial protections like flood insurance.

Somehow, many still don’t realize that nearly all homeowners insurance excludes flood damage, and that flood insurance must be in place 30 days before an incident. Even with our modern hurricane forecasting skills, we do not get a month of lead time before a specific landfall.

I’ve been thinking about this ongoing contradiction. Having people’s attention during a storm or impending disaster can save lives if they heed our program messages such as “Turn Around, Don’t Drown.” However, if they only focus on disaster preparation when trouble is impending, they are likely to suffer unnecessarily.

We know this because for more than three decades, in storm after storm, people have shared their regrets with us after the fact. They regret that lack of planning caused fear and stress for their kids. They regret scrambling for scarce supplies because of procrastination. As they clean up their water-logged homes, they regret that they missed out on simple home protection preps like boarding up, caulking windows, cleaning gutters, trimming overhanging limbs or even changing water runoff patterns in the yard.

They remember for years about how miserable it was to endure a power outage without basics like ice, water, or even peanut butter and jelly, never mind a generator or adequate fuel to run it. And they are surprised and frustrated when they lose power even though they were well outside the storm-impacted area. These regrets are compounded with health and welfare problems when the power goes out in extreme heat like Miami after Hurricane Andrew or winter cold like the Northeast after Superstorm Sandy.

We will never miss an opportunity to leverage the public’s attention with safety and prevention messages when we battle complacency directly ahead of a hurricane. But while the weather is peaceful, we will “tour” via satellite hoping to inspire and quoting Ben Franklin along the way, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

Homes Can Be Built to Better Withstand Most Tornadoes

The nonprofit Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH) released Building Codes: The Foundation for Resilience, its commentary prepared for the BuildStrong 2nd Annual National Thought Leaders Forum: Building Codes for a Stronger and Safer America.  The Forum on Capitol Hill coincided with the annual observance of International Code Council’s Building Safety Month celebration each May.  The commentary examines the American building code system, how a new tornado design philosophy is making it possible to build homes to withstand most tornadoes, and recommendations to strengthen the overall delivery of model building codes, standards and effective enforcement.

“As we join our nation’s leaders to sound the call for resilient communities, we are at a pivotal moment in our history with respect to our system of building codes, standards and practices,” said FLASH President and CEO Leslie Chapman-Henderson.  “Where the system is weak, it is invisible to the public until disaster strikes.  We are certain that when we reach a higher level of building performance, we will not only enhance life safety, but we will begin to mitigate the devastating economic losses that have become all too common when disasters strike.”

Building Safety Month is a public awareness campaign offered each year to help individuals, families and businesses understand what it takes to create and sustain safe and sustainable structures.  The campaign reinforces the need for adoption of modern, model building codes, a strong and efficient system of code enforcement and a well-trained, professional workforce to maintain the system.

2013 FLASH Annual Conference Highlights

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This past November, more than 165 leaders came together to advance the cause of mitigation and resilience at the 2013 FLASH Annual Conference – Mitigation 360°. Presenters and topics include Florida Emergency Management Director Bryan Koon, a virtual town hall meeting with Mike Holmes of Holmes on Homes, National Hurricane Center Directors past and present Max Mayfield, Bill Read and Dr. Rick Knabb, veteran journalists like Jim Cantore, interview panels, multi-media presentations and more.  Take a look at highlights from the event below and visit the conference website, to review the full conference report and session videos.  Be sure to mark your calendar now for the 2014 FLASH Annual Conference – Resilience Revolution November 19-21 at the Wyndham Grand Orlando Bonnet Creek in Orlando.  We hope to see you there.

United Nations World Habitat Day 2013


On Friday, October 4, I was honored to join a distinguished panel of speakers to discuss “Resilient Design for Sustainable Urbanization” at the United Nations (UN) headquarters in New York. The panel brought together high-level experts on natural disasters to help identify resilient design challenges and opportunities for national thought leaders and policymakers, and share their best practices and innovative, replicable ideas. The event, hosted by the UN’s Economic and Social Council, precedes World Habitat Day 2013 on October 7, when cities around the world will celebrate by organizing events addressing Sustainable Urban Mobility. View the United Nations broadcast or download the prepared statement.