A Futurist’s Take on Weather Safety Communication

By Joe Tankersley, Futurist & Storyteller/Unique Visions, Inc.

This month marks the 8th anniversary of StormStruck: A Tale of Two Homes® at Epcot® at the Walt Disney World Resort. FLASH’s groundbreaking experiment in social change communication represents the first time entertainment and story-telling were fully employed to inform and inspire the public to take action to be better prepared for extreme weather. At the time it was considered a big step and, for many, a slightly crazy idea.

Today, more than 5.5 million people have visited StormStruck since it opened. That number alone is a testament to its importance in the evolution of the weather mitigation movement. For those of us who had the privilege to be part of the project, the real measure of success was reported in a recent study conducted by behavioral science researchers from Carnegie Mellon University.

“This study included a pre-and post-exhibit survey and a 12-month follow-up survey with attendees at the Disney experience, StormStruck: A Tale of Two Homes. The purpose of the study was to measure individuals’ change in knowledge, perceptions of risk, feelings of preparedness, ability to name concrete precautionary actions, and subsequent behavior as a result of going through the StormStruck experience.”

The study found that a majority of the participants “gained critical action knowledge” and “retained that knowledge for 12 months.” Critically, “over 50% took some weather mitigation action.”  The results were so impressive that one of the researchers commented that “we just don’t see this kind of numbers in social change communication.”

Not surprising to those of us who worked on the project, the study concluded that empowerment was a motivational key prompting participants to take preparatory action against severe natural events. “Specifically, our data show that greater feelings of empowerment after visiting StormStruck lead to stronger participant intentions to pursue critical preparatory action upon return home.”

Since helping bring StormStruck to life, I have worked with a number of organizations to help them envision new ways to use the latest communication technologies to create powerful behavior change messages. From these experiences I have compiled a short list of strategies for what comes next.

Social messaging will become increasingly experiential. In the future, a fully immersive social change experience like StormStruck will be the expected, not the exception.

This will be driven in part by the coming explosion in virtual and augmented reality technologies. The number of consumers experiencing virtual reality will grow from just over two million worldwide today to 24 million by 2018. Augmented reality, thinkPokémon GO, will grow even faster, reaching a billion users worldwide in the next four years.

Storytelling of all sorts will become increasingly mobile. Users will expect access anywhere, anytime, and for any amount of time – from a 30-second video break on Facebook (ok, I know those still turn into hours lost) to a weekend spent binge watching the latest Netflix release, consumption habits will become personalized. The era of the PSA will effectively be over.

Authenticity will replace authority. We are seeing an increasing shift from top-down change communication to bottom up – driven by interested individuals and “amateurs.” Just take a few minutes to browse the 300 plus hours of new videos uploaded to YouTube every second and you realize that not all of them feature funny cats or performances by amazingly talented 2-year olds. Individuals are coming together to co-create change messages on topics they care about personally. These “handcrafted” messages are increasingly being favored by audiences over the standard “expert” communications.

One thing that will remain the same with all these new technologies; social change communication will be effective only when we give audiences/participants the tools to make themselves the heroes of their own stories. No matter what technology you use or how you engage your audience to help create your future social change messages, the key findings of that Carnegie Mellon study will remain true. “Greater feelings of empowerment” will lead to actual changes in behavior. Ultimately, that will be the longest lasting impact of that crazy idea FLASH introduced to the world eight years ago.

Weather Channel’s “WX Geeks” Feature FLASH

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As you might imagine, the first question we often get when we encounter new contacts in our movement is, “What exactly is the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes or FLASH Partnership, and how does it work?” Because achieving disaster resilience requires integration of many different areas of expertise, our partners include academics, architects, builders, code experts, corporations, emergency managers, engineers, first responders, floodplain managers, insurers, leaders, manufacturers, meteorologists, modelers, researchers, scientists, and many more.

We are a diverse coalition with the conviction that good science should lead to good building practices, and, ultimately, safe families and strong communities that can both resist and bounce back from natural disasters. With this “road to resilience” in mind, we lead—through collaboration, communication, and innovation.

I recently sat down with Dr. Marshall Shepherd, host of The Weather Channel’s clever Sunday show, WX Geeks to talk about the FLASH Partnership and highlight our new national hurricane resilience initiative, #HurricaneStrong. Thanks to his expert interview skills, a great producing team, and a national news channel that lives its commitment to disaster resilience, we had a stellar opportunity to tell our story.

Enjoy.

When Legislators Forget About Building Codes, Hurricane Amnesia is Officially Here

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The Florida Building Codes enacted, enhanced, and consistently updated since the devastating building failures of Hurricane Andrew in 1992 are considered a national standard for excellence in high-wind construction.

So, when our advocacy partners sent up an “all hands alert” just two weeks before the close of the Florida Legislative session, we were shocked to learn that the Florida Building Code was under assault. Someone, apparently a Florida Home Builders Association representative, had convinced a few legislators that it would be good idea to extend the update cycle for the entire state’s code from a three-year to a six-year cycle.

They attempted this by adding an amendment added to Committee Substitute #2 on House Bill 535, stating: 

553.73 Florida Building Code.— 

 (7)(a) The commission, by rule adopted pursuant to ss.120.536 (1) and 120.54, shall update the Florida Building Code every 6 3 years.

This was done quietly as the bill headed to its last committee, and then off to the House floor. Senate Bill 704 was set to follow the same route. It’s important to note that often when legislation is made quietly and at the last minute, it’s because the action cannot hold up under public scrutiny. Or, as we like to say in Florida, it can’t survive the sunshine.

And such was the case here.

I’ve written about this growing issue before here in this blog, as well as in our paper, Disaster Resilience Rising Means the Time is Right.

The three-year cycle is used by Florida, and most states, because it follows the International Code Council development process of new model codes crafted through consensus on a three-year, recurring cycle. Even so, there is often an administrative tail on the final adoption. Regardless, when we adopt and enforce the newest building codes, our building practices stay current with new products, science innovation, and post-disaster insights.

Yet some states and jurisdictions, like Minnesota and North Carolina, have elongated code adoption from three to six, or even nine years. These extended code cycles not only leave citizens without the benefit of current model building codes, but also impede the disaster safety movement goal to rapidly incorporate beneficial, post-disaster findings into model codes.

Opponents of timely adoption have convinced some lawmakers that there is no harm in switching from a three-year to a longer, six-year update cycle. They argue that it provides a cost savings with no offsetting harm to the overall construction in those states.

But they could not be more wrong. Here is how we made our case to the Florida press:

Stalling the timely adoption of the newest building code represents a backward step for construction, design, innovation, and disaster resilience overall with negative impacts across many fronts.

1. Families will be denied the latest insights and advances in construction technology and the benefits of innovation and advances that deliver savings across energy, fire and other cost drivers (ordinary water losses and/or catastrophic losses). For example, this will put essential code enhancements for flood resistance on hold.

2. The excellent building code policy record in Florida is one of the most important supports for the often-stressed property insurance system. This type of policy setback could have devastating effects on the delicate balance that has been so hard won post-Andrew.

3. The El Niño year has already delivered the projected tornadic and high wind events. The expected La Niña could bring similarly heightened activity. Further, many credible meteorology professionals suggest strong potential for a hurricane season reminiscent of the 2004-2005 activity level.

Shortly after the news spread of these amendments altering the Florida building code cycle from three to six years, the effort was abandoned. And, we are very relieved that it failed. But we should all be wary. If any Florida Legislator can be convinced that we don’t need to maintain current building codes in the most high-risk hurricane state, then we are not only forgetting history, but we are dooming ourselves to repeat it.

With this in mind, we’ve launched a new initiative, #HurricaneStrong, to help remind the public, leaders, and families alike, that we must remain vigilant to remain disaster resilient. I hope you’ll join us.

Ideas, Inspiration, and Innovation: Report on the 2016 FLASH Annual Conference

2016 AC Leadership PhotoOrganizing an annual conference every year is a mammoth undertaking for an organization of our size, but it is one of the most important aspects to our work because it delivers such unique value. In our movement, most conferences bring together attendees with a common profession, like engineers, floodplain managers, or meteorologists. Many revolve around a common hazard, like the National Earthquake Conference or the National Hurricane Conference.

But ours is different. Our common thread is our shared mission, “Strengthening homes and safeguarding families from disasters of all kinds.” In today’s language, it’s all about resilience.

So we bring together more than 150 different professions from architects and engineers to futurists and journalists. We focus on all hazards from earthquakes to wildfires. We gain insights from policy leadership and hurricane hunting to risk communication research.

And throughout, we are inspired. We share the dedication of our building code allies as we fight to advance the quality of structures across the U.S., and now the globe. We celebrate product innovation that delivers durable buildings, affordably.

And after 18 years of nearly annual gatherings, the Conference is still our most essential event as it energizes us all. We come together, celebrate our progress, overcome challenges, and remember that we have accomplished a great deal already. This gathering was the incubator for the once crazy notion/now award-winning Disney edu-tainment collaboration, StormStruck: A Tale of Two Homes. Many other breakthrough ideas were born here, just this way.

All of this is why one of my favorite duties each year is reviewing the Conference wrap-up report and video reel that we are sending out today. In them, you can feel the excitement and positivity of our speakers, and you can experience the sincerity of the champions who fight for a more resilient world every day.

For my part, I can’t help but marvel at how it has all grown. In the beginning, we simply wanted to get a group around the table. Now, we convene the “Davos” of the resilience movement. And we are truly humbled to do so.

Plans are underway for 2017, and we hope to see you there. In the meantime, enjoy the report and remember the words of Henry Ford, “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.” Yes it is.

How Big Data Means “Bigger is Better” for Weather Safety & Resilience

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As conversations about the application of Big Data come out of the 2016 World Economic Forum in Davos this week, I recall how the headline, Is IBM Building the Most Powerful Weather Service the World Has Ever Seen?, made perfect sense to me. The article described how IBM purchased The Weather Company’s digital and data assets in a deal inspired by opportunities in Big Data. The Wall Street Journal valued the transaction at more than $2 billion, and IBM described their rationale:

With this acquisition, IBM is going to harness one of the largest big data               opportunities in the world — weather. Weather is probably the single largest swing factor in business performance — it impacts 1/3 of the world’s GDP and in the U.S. alone, weather is responsible for about half a trillion dollars in impact. Weather affects every aspect of the economy – energy usage, travel and transportation, new construction, agricultural yields, mall and restaurant traffic, etc.

This move is a profound illustration of the opportunity that Big Data presents in the realm of disaster resilience, a topic we addressed in our paper, Understanding the Intersection of Resilience, Big Data, and the Internet of Things in a Changing Insurance Marketplace.

Truly, with $500 Billion (yes they say billion) in opportunity costs on the line, Big (weather) Data can not only inform to, but can revolutionize industries and movements across the world.

In my last blog, I discussed the movement behind resilience metrics—an issue that can be categorized as a “Big Data” problem. Like all sectors, we’re experiencing the advent of exploding amounts of data, and one growing source of this data is from the Internet of Things (IoT).

One IoT example in homes is the Nest Thermostat. The device not only indicates the temperature in your house, but it issues alerts if it detects significant temperature swings. The obvious advantage is that you learn of potential system problems right away. Consider the power of learning that your home temperature is dropping during winter weather conditions. This could provide invaluable lead time to prevent costly damage like frozen pipes, especially if you’re away from home when the alert arrives. The device can help you keep up with routine maintenance as well by tracking air filter usage, and reminding you when filters are ready to be changed.

Smart home technology like Nest’s helps us understand IoT and information (data) creation, but the questions of how to harness and leverage all the new information once we have it takes us back to the Big Data side of the equation…

Big Data issues are taking center stage in our movement as social science efforts explore the interrelation of Big Data and resilience at the United Nations’ Global Pulse, the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center, the U.S. National Science Foundation and the Japan Science and Technology Agency, and the World Bank. These initiatives raise common issues around resilience and Big Data, including:

  • How can we protect privacy while still benefitting from the data?
  • How (can) the different, emerging resiliency efforts integrate into an understandable system?
  • Who are the decision-makers, data owners, and what are their rights?
  • Should insurers/reinsurers heighten engagement or simply design their own system?

It’s clear that tremendous value lies in the use of Big Data, like the IBM weather data deal described above. What we envision is applying Big Data on building features managed through a philosophy of transparency to benefit residents and communities alike. We want to capture and share the relevant building data that drives ultimate home performance during a disaster or over time, and I will cover this in a future blog.

IBM’s vision for Big (weather) Data is just the start. We all must get and stay involved to ensure we leverage Big Data, one of most promising and powerful tools for creating a reliably strong, safe and durable built environment. As we know, that is the most essential element of resilience.

If What Gets Measured Gets Done, How Can We Measure Resilience?

Many of us in the disaster-resilience movement have witnessed and participated in the creation of resilience measurement systems. Along the way, we’ve observed that one of the strongest aspects of our movement is also what makes measurement so difficult: diversity. There are so many puzzle pieces that must be considered—economic, physical, political, and social—just to name a few.

In October of this year, we released a paper entitled Understanding the Intersection of Resilience, Big Data, and the Internet of Things in the Changing Insurance Marketplace, in which we explored resilience measurement as well as issues of Big Data and the Internet of Things (IoT). The good news is that the landscape is rich with efforts to apply a measuring stick to resilience from micro- up to macro-levels. The other news is that this issue is mindboggling in its enormity.

So over the next couple of posts, I plan to return to an examination of these issues because Big Data and the IoT can transform the disaster-resilience movement, and the implications are almost unfathomable. These concepts and their intersection present opportunities that we must understand and plan for before we can harvest any benefits, or at least prevent unintended consequences.

The first step is to develop uniform, consistent metrics to gauge progress toward resilient communities. We need verifiable, practical, and replicable tools. And we need to apply these tools to quality data.

At FLASH, we are concerned with community-wide resilience, but our work focuses more particularly on strengthening homes and safeguarding families from the ground up with strong building codes, beyond-code mitigation, and personal preparedness as part of a culture of resilience. These are foundational aspects of community resilience of course.

But here’s the challenge. Data on building characteristics and performance is not historically granular enough to derive ongoing insights except in certain post-disaster situations. Even then, we must obtain onsite analysis. That is why we need forensic engineering efforts like FEMA’s Mitigation Assessment Team post-disaster to assess structural performance, and evaluate failure patterns to inform to better building codes and standards in the future.

But this is where Big Data and the need for quality data (IoT) can make a difference. When IoT generated-data from new or emerging technologies like sensors can give us precise information on how a building performs, how will we leverage the information for better building practices to avoid future losses? Can we use the Big Data generated by the IoT to get ahead of the next disaster instead of learning after the fact? And what are the accepted metrics (if any) to build a credible database for our insights?

One way to understand the potential of Big Data and IoT is to apply the question to modern water detection systems. The marketplace is exploding with products like Fibaro Flood Sensor, Quirky Overflow, Utilitech Leak Detector, Wally, WaterCop, and more. These systems use sensors to detect moisture, temperature, and humidity and can identify water leakage from all kinds of sources like dishwashers, frozen pipes, washing machine hoses, and water heaters. This triggers an alert to the resident who can stop the leak, clean up the water, and prevent or mitigate costly damage and repairs.

This is a very meaningful breakthrough in loss prevention given the billions paid annually in water-involved insurance losses.

But in our vision of Big Data and IoT, we’d take it several steps further. Leak occurrences would be analyzed in the context of type of appliance, type of pipes, weather conditions, age of home, installation methods, etc. And any relevant specifics would be captured to develop insights on better (or worse) performing construction methods, products, and technologies. This data would inform to future products and practices.

From there, a database of homes with certain characteristics would be built. And this same approach using sensors and tech could be applied to many other failure modes from wind to seismic. All of these databases then would become elements of resilience measurement. Indeed, some already are.

The water detection example shows how resilience metrics are a Big Data problem. The myriad water detection devices cited above create data, but how to sort, harvest, and use the data effectively has a long way to go if it will be valuable beyond the individual loss. This type of micro-measurement is just one of the many ways we grapple with resilience measurement.

In our paper, we also examine various macro-resilience metrics/frameworks/indices including the U.S. Resiliency Council’s effort to rank buildings for seismic performance.

The key is working out how the micro-metrics and data can be developed and reliably applied in the macro-context of community resilience. There are existing options. For residential structures, MLS could include scores on the structural integrity, and attendant durability and life expectancy of a home and/or its location relative to natural hazards. Trulia and Zillow can make this information transparent to homeowners, and it would finally be a factor in driving the market value. Think about it. How is it that the most important aspect of a home—its structural integrity—is still not transparent to homeowners?

Cisco projects that by the year 2020 there will be 37 billion smart products on the market. Juniper Research predicts that there will be 10 million smart connected devices by 2017. It’s time for us to figure out a formula to harness the explosion of data that is headed our way.

This is an important conversation that is only beginning. Our next blog will look at the larger issue of Big Data and disaster resilience and how these movements are converging. And, you may want to join us as we spotlight this issue during our 2016 Annual Conference Meeting with a panel entitled The Next Generation of Resilient Communities. We are bringing together leading voices from government, private, and association to share their perspectives on current initiatives, opportunities, and challenges of fostering resilient communities.

Either way, we look forward to the ongoing conversation.

 

 

What I Learned About Terrorism While Living Abroad … Resilience As A Way of Life

Almost 30 years ago, I lived in the Republic of Turkey and worked as a field administrator for the City Colleges of Chicago at the joint NATO Air Base at Incirlik. At that time, Turkey had just come out from under military law that was put in place to control the dangerous conditions wrought by terrorist and separatist factions.

It was the early 1980’s, and the collective mood in the country was fairly optimistic as the economy was growing, resources were abundant, and government policy made education and employment opportunities accessible for residents throughout the region.

Don’t misunderstand. Conditions were decidedly different from the U.S., and our family observed a more restrictive lifestyle than back home. But, all in all, we traveled throughout the country with relatively few restrictions, visiting ancient ruins and historic sites, shopping for carpets and copper keepsakes, and connecting with the warm and welcoming population.

The experience was vastly better than I expected. Before I moved there, I had concerns about how much, or little, freedom I would have as a woman in that culture. I worried about security. I also wondered if I would feel “different” to an extent that would make my time there difficult and uncomfortable.

So we planned. In an era without digital communication (or even fax machines) we had a telephone tree. We had a dedicated neighborhood “watch” system, traveled in pairs whenever possible, and checked on each other. We established meeting places in case of any incidents, like bombings, and, throughout, we remained vigilant.

As it turned out, the main hazard we confronted during my time in Turkey (besides water-borne stomach illness) was seismic. So, we added earthquake safety to our overall, real, yet subtle state of readiness. As a result, we maintained physical and mental resilience in the face of known and unknown threats.

No doubt, my nearly four years in Turkey played a formative role in how I live my life today. I am risk aware, risk averse, and a professional risk communicator and disaster resilience advocate. I can’t imagine a more empowering way of living.

After Turkey, I spent a dozen years in the corporate world of insurance (a natural homeland for the risk conscious) working disaster preparedness, catastrophe claims response, and billion-dollar catastrophe exposure reduction initiatives. And, after that, I had the opportunity to help create and lead our organization where I’ve dedicated the last 17 years to promotion of risk awareness, mitigation, planning, and leveraging resilience strategies to improve life for all in harm’s way.

As I joined the world last weekend as a witness to the horrors wrought by the murderous Paris terrorist attacks, I reflected on what we can do in what some predict will be our new normal. It’s clear that we may not be able to prevent future terrorist strikes. But what we can do is be aware, plan, and prepare to be a helpful part of a solution no matter what happens.

We must follow the call to arms, “If you see something, say something”. And in all settings, whether entertainment or travel or just around our hometowns, we must make contingency planning our new normal. It’s really not complicated, and with a bit of practice, it becomes second nature. For me, it comes as easily as breathing. No matter what I’m doing, I always have a plan “B”.

Sadly, as our time in Turkey came to a close, the era of optimism was ending. Terrorist bombings took place in Ankara and Athens, and threats to other military installations were on the rise. As an expectant mother, I implemented my ultimate contingency plan and left the country.

Today, we cannot and will not leave our country. And we cannot be intimidated by terrorists to stay home or be afraid. We must be resolute, and we can be resilient.

All it takes is a bit of practice.