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, 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.
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)
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, 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.
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
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?
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, District Manager – Lowe’s
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
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.
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.
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
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 Robinson, Managing Partner – Global Protection Products
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.
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
National Weather Service New Orleans/Baton Rouge team members, Ken Graham, and Leslie Chapman-Henderson strike the #HurricaneStrong “Pose”
Nonprofit Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH) announces a research-informed initiative to address missing or outdated building codes across the United States
The nonprofit Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH)® Partnership today announced consumer research findings and analysis underpinning a new transparency initiative entitled, No Code. No Confidence. Inspect to Protect.org. The organization created the effort after consumer surveys revealed that Americans are highly confident that building codes are already “in place” even though most communities at-risk for disaster are without necessary structural codes and standards for safe and optimal building performance.
Two separate tracks informed to the campaign creation. First, behavior-focused studies indicated that while most consumers are not concerned or interested in codes, they strongly rejected the idea that codes may be absent or inadequate. Moreover, eight of ten assumed, incorrectly, that they are at least moderately protected by building codes. Another two-thirds of those surveyed indicated they would be very or extremely concerned to learn they had no code at all using words such as terrified to describe the scenario.
A companion effort focused on engineering analysis of residential building codes in more than twenty-three thousand U.S. cities and towns facing floods, high wind, hurricane, seismic, or tornado hazards. The analysis revealed that only 7,265 of the 23,000 communities had building codes with disaster-resistant provisions incorporated for both commercial and residential codes. This means that 69% of evaluated U.S. communities facing one or more of the above-described hazards is doing so without the benefit of current, relevant structural building codes.
“The research validates what we have always believed. Consumers are largely unaware of the dangerous gap between building code adoption, enforcement, and disaster risk,” said FLASH President and CEO Leslie Chapman-Henderson. “They do not understand that they may live in a community without the protection of current, modern building codes and standards. That is why we’re providing them with a way to find out where they stand.”
InspectToProtect.org allows consumers to identify the building codes used in their community currently by inputting their address to see a map with a color-coded analysis of red, yellow, green, or black. The colors indicate residential code versions based on the best available, verified national data, and reflect the status of International Residential Code (IRC) model adoption. Consumers should contact their local building or planning department to learn about the code enforcement requirements as well as they may be voluntary, mandatory, or nonexistent.
“The best way to predict home performance before a disaster is to understand how it was built,” said Chapman-Henderson. “That’s why we are bringing this information out in the open. The No Code. No Confidence. initiative and InspectToProtect.org website are unprecedented efforts to de-complicate building codes for consumers and empower them with the knowledge to better prepare for severe weather events and natural disasters.”
Today, FLASH is launching a communication campaign to promote the new initiative. The campaign includes thought-provoking Public Service Announcements like the “Four-way Stop”, and a 2D movie trailer animation depicting the “Tale of Two Towns.” Social media advertising will help drive consumers to the website as well.
The project is a multi-year effort and new elements and data will be continuously incorporated.
The nonprofit Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH) is the country’s leading consumer advocate for strengthening homes and safeguarding families from natural and manmade disasters. The FLASH partnership includes more than 100 innovative and diverse organizations that share a vision of making America a more disaster-resilient nation including: BASF Corporation, FEMA, Florida Division of Emergency Management, Huber Engineered Woods, International Code Council, ISO, Lowe’s, National Weather Service, Portland Cement Association, Simpson Strong-Tie, State Farm, and USAA. In 2008, FLASH, and Disney opened the interactive weather experience StormStruck: A Tale of Two Homes, in Lake Buena Vista, FL. Learn more about FLASH and access free consumer resources by visiting http://www.flash.org, calling toll-free (877) 221- SAFE (7233), following @federalalliance on Twitter, on Facebook.com/federalalliance, and the FLASH blog – Protect Your Home in a FLASH.
How transparency, policy reform, and better construction can drive resilience in disaster-prone regions across the U.S.
Two days after Hurricane Michael, I told The Washington Post, “We have evidence that we can construct affordable housing that is resilient.” I shared home survival stories from Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and pointed up how affordably-built houses often outperform more expensive structures when tested by disasters. The intrepid Post reporters went on to locate and showcase a current case where five homes built by Habitat for Humanity volunteers in the Florida Panhandle survived Hurricane Michael, a nearly Category Five storm.
The stunning front page story surprised some with clear and convincing proof that we can build resiliently in the face of disaster by using simple, affordable concepts. The national story helped families understand that everyone can have a disaster-resistant home.
We need more coverage like the Post story to help spread the word about affordable home resilience and many other common-sense basics of disaster safety. We need public and leadership support for meaningful changes that can help move the U.S. past the current home building model of “Build-Destroy-Rebuild” to one where we “Build to Last” instead.
This week, I will open our 2018 National Disaster Resilience Conference by offering six tactics to improve how homes perform in disaster zones. Some of these are surprisingly simple. Some are already in place. All are ready for implementation today.
Increasing Consumer Transparency
Individual Home Ratings
In 2006, our organization, the nonprofit Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH), designed and implemented the $25 million pilot for the landmark $250 million My Safe Florida Home wind retrofit program. As part of that work, we designed an inspection-based, high-wind rating for homes using a 1 to 100 scale that was used in more than 400,000 inspections. The Florida Legislature liked the home score concept so much that they passed a law to require its inclusion during real estate closings. Sadly, the law was quietly repealed the following year at the urging of industries opposed to transparency, but the concept lives on.
Americans understand rating systems whether they are for cholesterol, cars, or schools. It’s time we add homes to the list. Today, we have much better data to create this system, and we can rate homes for all types of features from energy efficiency to durability, earthquake/flood/high-wind resistance, and more. We stand ready to support the effort.
Home Construction – Basic Disclosures
Every home should have a permanently mounted identification plate next to the circuit breaker box that states:
Year Built and Permitted
Year of Model Building Code Used (if any) and Indication of Weakening Amendments Present Yes/No
Builder Name, Contact Information, and License # (if any)
Building Inspector Name, Contact Information, and License # (if any)
These things sound mundane, but when it comes to real estate, these details are often buried in closing documents instead of conveniently showcased like a handy sticker on our car door. Why does it matter? Several reasons. First, the best predictor of home performance in an earthquake, hurricane, or any disaster will be understanding which (if any) code was used. Next, when names and products are aligned, professional accountability often follows. Having the builder’s and building inspector’s name listed can not only inspire consistency, but it can improve performance too.
Lastly, unlike cars, buyers of existing homes may not have easy access to details about home systems. Knowing how to find the builder will make it simpler for new owners to learn about and maintain their purchase for the long haul.
Disaster History Database
Trulia.com now includes a feature called “Hazard Maps” to help prospective home buyers evaluate value through the prism of potential for future disaster losses. The feature provides colored maps reflecting presence of earthquake, flooding, hurricane, tornado, and wildfire hazards.
Why not a similar feature that discloses past disaster losses for each home on an individual basis?
High-quality, granular “Big Data” about disaster and insurance claims already exists. We would like to see it leveraged and added as a featured disclosure on the MLS system, as well as websites like Trulia and Zillow.
This recommendation is simple, understandable, and powerful in its benefit for consumers to make informed buying decisions. We already have CARFAX. Could HouseFax be next?
Strengthening Public Policy
Timely Adoption and Enforcement of Modern, Model Building Codes
Believe it or not, many communities are still built without the benefit of current model building codes and reliable enforcement practices to ensure consistent residential construction quality. Moreover, many state and local governments adopt model codes only to weaken or ignore their mandates.
Building codes provide the minimum safety standard for a structure, so it is critical that we use them, but why aren’t consumers worried about this?
For years, we speculated that consumers are not concerned about building codes because they don’t understand that they may not have them. This year, we researched that theory and we are correct. Our survey revealed that consumers are not worried about codes because they assume, incorrectly, that local leaders would never allow building without safety standards. Moreover, they expressed strong conviction that home builders that oppose codes are “shoddy” (their words).
I think our study says it all, and we will have more to share about it in the coming months. In the meantime, leaders need only look to the Hurricane Michael devastation in the Florida Panhandle to see the long-term consequences of short-term thinking when it comes to weakening building codes.
Upgrading Existing Homes
Home Inspection and Retrofitting Grants
As part of the same My Safe Florida Home pilot program described above, we developed the first large-scale U.S. wind retrofitting grant program that allowed for improvements to (1) opening protection (shutters or replacement of windows, doors, gable vents, soffits of a certain size); (2) roofing (enhanced roof deck attachment, secondary water barrier or underlayment, and high-wind/impact-resistant roof coverings); (3) reinforcement of gable ends, attached structures (porches), or more.
At its conclusion, the matching grants helped 35,000 Florida families strengthen their homes for future hurricanes. It inspired similar public programs in other hurricane-prone states, and private market retrofit financing programs as well.
The concept makes great sense once you understand that most of existing U.S. housing stock was built before the advent of modern, model codes. As such, we recommend that states and local governments begin to inventory and identify options for strengthening older homes against whatever hazards they face today. This can be done in conjunction with other housing programs that address affordable housing and energy efficiency.
When you think about the relative difficulty of strengthening existing homes as opposed to building it right the first time, enforcing strong model building codes for new construction makes even more sense.
Rebuilding with Resilience in Mind
Large scale disasters bring massive rebuilding and recovery efforts that last for years and often decades. Whether a home is damaged by a loss such as house fire, or in a natural disaster like a hurricane, recovery efforts present a meaningful opportunity to upgrade homes with resilience in mind.
However, aside from coverage for mandatory law and ordinance upgrades, homeowner insurance contracts generally provide only for a return to pre-loss status. While this is understandable and consistent with the principles of insurance, it means that rebuilding after a loss typically excludes meaningful ways to strengthen housing stock before the next disaster occurs.
As a result, resilience upgrades like bracing cripple walls, enhancing roof connection systems, installing impact- and wind-resistant roof coverings, and stronger entry doors, or upgrading to wildfire-resistant materials become optional and must be paid for by the homeowner. Often, enhancements are beyond the financial reach of a family as they work to recover from the loss.
Ironically, the difference between the insurance-funded repairs and the cost of disaster-resilient upgrades is often manageable, but no systematic program exists to inform homeowners of resilience upgrade options, provide or identify funding to bridge the gap between claims proceeds and optional upgrades, or support the retrofitting and rebuilding through to conclusion.
We suggest that mitigation upgrade programs for families residing or rebuilding in disaster zones can be funded with both private donations or public funds, e.g., the FEMA Pre-disaster Mitigation (PDM) program expanded as part of the newly enacted federal Disaster Recovery Reform Act.
The Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety Fortified program offers “beyond-code” methods for high wind and other hazards. In fact, Fortified provided the construction recipe used on the surviving homes examined by The Washington Post in the above-referenced story. Bridging the cost gap between insurance proceeds and resilience upgrades like those outlined in Fortified closes the distance between status quo and resilience for recovering families.
We know it can work because we piloted one of the first such programs in tornado-stricken Moore, Oklahoma and Louisville, Mississippi in 2012. As a result, 225 low-income families there now have tornado shelters, as well as peace of mind. We called it, “The Resilience Fund.” The model is ready and replicable.
We have shared the above ideas through service on councils, reform commissions, task forces, and FLASH programming since 1998. Individually, any one of these can improve home building quality. Some of them already do.
We offer these measures again today to continue the conversation around our movement’s “rethink” of how we build in the wake of the 2017 and 2018 disasters. After twenty years in the trenches, we know that increasing consumer transparency and building with risk in mind will reduce deaths and prevent losses before disasters strike. Further, we know that policy reforms deliver everyday benefits through more durable and energy-efficient structures as well.
What we don’t know is exactly how soon the next disaster will come. As such, there is no time to lose in making these options available for everyone, and we need the strong and growing cadre of industry and policy leadership champions to make it happen—today. When they do, home survival in disasters will become the rule, not the exception.
This is the ninth installment from 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.
As a disaster safety community of citizens, policymakers, practitioners, and scientists, we must focus on catastrophes one at a time. We handle them as they occur, responding generously with resources and national empathy. But we often lose the momentum of public support too swiftly to affect sweeping policy changes. Lessons are learned and sometimes preserved locally, but we run out of momentum to create or sustain change beyond the affected area.
Unfortunately, this approach has created a hodgepodge system of different resilience levels across the country depending on where you live. States like California have not only embraced minimum seismic building codes, but they are now looking to performance-based codes that will go beyond life safety to preserve property too. Contrast that with those counties in Texas that either do not adopt or do not enforce residential building codes.
This local approach is rational in a world where resources are finite, and disasters are an uncertainty. But it sustains a costly cycle of “Build-Destroy-Rebuild” because leaders sometimes have little incentive to create resilience through building code adoption and enforcement or other “DisasterSmart” policies.
Again, it is understandable. Why act differently so long as communities can expect generous post-disaster relief dollars with few strings attached?
One might counter these observations with the fact that states and local governments have self-determination. That is true. But self-determination without self-funding is inequitable. First, it is unfair to the affected homeowners who bear the cost of insurance deductibles and loss of quality of life during extended, disruptive recovery periods. Additionally, it is unfair to taxpayers beyond the disaster zone who pay through billion-dollar relief grants and subsidized programs like flood insurance.
The cost of disasters can be mitigated by implementing resilience tools like building codes and research-informed risk communication. That is why we are calling for local and state leaders to put strong, modern building codes and communication plans in place before disasters strike. The current system of incomplete resilience leaves U.S. communities on a roller coaster of life safety threats and economic whiplash driven by weather and earth movement, but we can blunt those extremes when we commit to best practices and proven policies.
After the 2017 experience, we see a legacy taking shape. We are moving beyond only a defined community of disaster safety stakeholders who understand and support the policies and practices necessary to affect change. We are moving on to a new and growing public where everyone values and understands that every city, county, township, tribe, and village can innovate and become resilient through leadership and resolve.
This brings us back to the wisdom of one of the world’s greatest leaders during times of crisis, Winston Churchill, who stated, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
We are committed to continuing, together, until we break the build-destroy-rebuild cycle once and for all.