Rusty or Resilient? The Hermine Reveal

 

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Earlier this year, we launched #HurricaneStrong, a new national hurricane resilience initiative to overcome public amnesia regarding the value of advance storm preparations. We did so because readiness declines when land-falling storms are scarce, and resilience is impossible without a prepared public.

In this video, we make the point that decision-making by the individual or family is one of the most important drivers of safety and survival when a hurricane comes ashore as Hermine did in Tallahassee this month.

So from my perspective as part of both the disaster safety and Tallahassee communities, I am offering an unofficial score card on our Hermine performance by benchmarking against the five key focus areas of #HurricaneStrong. For this analysis, I am labeling actions before, during, and after as either “Resilient” or “Rusty”. And, yes, this is anecdotal, but well-informed as it is derived from our impressions as well as those of our vast network here and across Florida.

1) Personal Safety – Know Your Evacuation Zone – It’s still early, but I can confidently say that with respect to evacuation, the behavior of the majority of those at greatest risk in the path of Hermine was Resilient. The most dangerous life safety threat from Hermine was exactly as forecast by the National Hurricane Center—near record storm surge. And most of the residents of our coastline paid attention, and either hunkered down in elevated spaces, or they evacuated as ordered. As a result, no loss of life in Florida occurred from storm surge when the predictions proved accurate. Regrettably, one life was lost in a tree fall in an interior city, Ocala, but thanks to exceptional forecasting and public messaging from the National Hurricane Center, we averted potential for widespread loss of life.

2) Financial Security – Have an Insurance Check-up – This is one where I have to go with Rusty as many seemed unfamiliar with insurance policy basics. Here are the things you really need to know if you live in hurricane country:

  1. First steps post-storm should be to protect your covered property from further damage, document the losses by taking pictures (before you dispose of property), and contact your insurance company.
  2. Hurricanes may trigger special, percentage deductibles that are usually higher than dollar deductibles, e.g. 2% of a $300,000 home would mean a $6,000 deductible on physical damage to the home.
  3. Loss of Use reimbursement may be available if your home is rendered uninhabitable.
  4. Food spoilage caused by power outage may be covered, typically with a limit of $500.
  5. Tree removal is not covered unless the tree hits a covered structure.
  6. Increased electric bills may be covered if fans and other equipment are needed to dry out a damaged structure.
  7. Temporary repairs are typically covered if they are deemed reasonable and necessary.
  8. Automobile damage is covered so long as your policy includes “comprehensive” coverage.
  9. Flood insurance is not covered under a regular homeowner’s insurance policy, and requires a separate purchase.
  10. Flood insurance policies require a 30-day waiting period, so even in long lead time storms like Hermine, no coverage protection applies until a month goes by.

Flood insurance is critical for families to become #HurricaneStrong as uninsured flooding losses are often the most financially catastrophic byproduct of hurricanes and storms like Superstorm Sandy, the South Carolina “thousand-year flood”, or last month’s flooding in Louisiana.

This is one of the reasons we made insurance a priority in #HurricaneStrong, and why we routinely partner with FEMA’s FloodSmart.gov team to help spread the word. In July, we did so through an appearance on WFTS-ABC Tampa Bay’s “Morning Blend”. This broadcast reached families in the ten-county Tampa Bay viewing area with data like that in the table below:

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What this table shows us is that only one-third of those residing in high-risk flood areas around Tampa Bay have a flood policy in force. Further, only five percent of those in low- to moderate-risk areas have a flood policy. This is startling and problematic for a whole host of reasons. As previously stated, life-altering physical and financial losses from floods can haunt families for years. We see this right now in South Carolina where foreclosures and building failures plague many families affected by flooding in Columbia last year.

It is also alarming for low- to moderate-risk areas as floods can occur well away from the high-risk zones, just as they did last month in Louisiana. In fact, 20 percent of all flood claims come from outside the high risk flood zones. One silver lining is that flood policies in those areas are often affordable. My flood insurance policy in Tallahassee is approximately $34 a month.

If you need further convincing, click on this cost of flooding calculator. You will see how quickly the losses add up. Two inches of water in your home will create an average of $21,000 in damages, four inches will cost $29,650. Flooding costs rise almost as fast as the water.

Just imagine what would be happening in Tampa Bay right now if Hermine had turned further east, and those without flood policies had been inundated.

Bottom line? Balanced against the potential cost of flooding, most of us in hurricane country need to make the investment in a flood insurance policy.

3) Family Preparedness – Build a Disaster Supply Kit – The bad news is that this simplest of #HurricaneStrong behaviors earns a Rusty designation post-Hermine. And, I think this is where the amnesia really hurts us. Apparently, many here either didn’t know, forgot, or ignored the basics of family readiness. They didn’t stock up on nonperishable food, water, or ice. They didn’t top off their gas tanks ahead of the storm.

Worse, afterwards, they ventured out too soon for safety. Power lines were sparking, traffic lights weren’t working, and gas station lines were growing by the minute. They showed up at McDonald’s (where they were doing brisk business thanks to a generator), but they couldn’t buy food as they never anticipated the need for cash. Credit cards didn’t work in many spots where the Internet service networks were down.

Food, water, cash, gas—all are “king” post-disaster. So the good news is that this is one of the easiest ways to become resilient. Make the list; secure the supplies. Plan for a generator, and make sure you have gas and oil to keep it running. If you can’t afford a generator, consider cost-sharing a purchase and plan ahead with family or friends to get one residence up and running until power is restored. Remember, those that plan win.

4) Damage Prevention – Strengthen Your Home – The storm surge did cause damage along the coast, and substantially-damaged structures will need to be elevated when they are rebuilt, especially if they want to qualify for future flood insurance.

Conversely, for the most part, the winds were not high or constant enough to reliably test home construction. But they did shine a light on the downside of our love affair with trees.

When we live in a beautiful, canopied area like the Big Bend, trees will topple when the winds blow, but there are things we can do in advance to mitigate impacts. Every year, we need to trim, limb up, and maintain healthy trees. If a tree is dead or dying, we should remove it. Local county extension offices are an excellent source of free expertise to help you decide.

If a storm threatens, and you are staying in your home, you should evaluate where a tree could land on your home and its proximity to sleeping rooms. Many here did exactly that ahead of Hermine, and it was a lively (and morbid) topic of conversation. We can never know if all the families that had trees fall on their houses planned to sleep safely out of the way, but in all but the Ocala case, either by luck or planning, people avoided injury and possible death.

So, overall, I can’t judge this category as either Rusty or Resilient, but I can state the obvious—we are lucky that Hermine sped ashore before she strengthened further. It could have been so much worse.

5) Community Service – Help Your Neighbor – Like the first bucket, I am thrilled to give this one a resounding Resilient. If you know Tallahassee, it should come as no surprise. People here are civic-minded and care deeply about their neighbors. Before, during, and after the storm, Facebook was full of posts with offers to give shelter, share meals, watch pets—anything to help out. When a tree crashed through a roof in one neighborhood, neighbors poured out into the driving rain to help rescue the family.

Post-storm, spontaneous acts of kindness erupted. Businesses gave out free ice, churches gave away hot dogs and cold water in their parking lots, and people opened up their homes to shelter those without air conditioning through some blazing hot days and muggy nights.

Believe me, for the most part, ordinary people behaved valiantly, except maybe the grumpy blogger who unfairly characterized Tallahassee as a community of “whiners” for complaining about power outages. Maybe I hang out with too many social psychologists, but I think he got it all wrong. The Tallahassee “who has power?” social media derby took shape because people were bored, frustrated, and had a way to say so.

“What’s up with my power going down?” is always one of the most common conversations post-storm as it was here for five days with the exception of a few holiday weekend football games (that some couldn’t view without power). With the advent of social media, we just heard more of the conversation, including some truly clever and funny posts.

It may seem trivial from afar that people became obsessed with having electric power, but the outages here caused traffic accidents, disrupted the local economy (many local stores and restaurants remained closed until six days later), and left some elderly sweltering in assisted living facilities.

Later, at the appropriate time, an objective analysis and after-action report will teach us what we might need to do differently to recover more quickly in the future.

So, overall, what has Hermine revealed about our disaster resilience? My score card across the five essential areas include two categories were Rusty, two categories were Resilient, and one was Neither. That won’t get us to #HurricaneStrong. We will never bounce back quickly if we don’t adapt, and get all of these disaster fundamentals right. But, lessons learned here can help us in the next storm, and that’s a good thing.

After all, we still have a lot of hurricane season left to go.

 

 

 

 

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.

The Latest Addition to Our Resilience Heroes Ranks: Max Mayfield—battle-tested weather-safety warrior, and 2015 Weatherperson of the Year

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I thought that writing a post about Max Mayfield would be straightforward because I’ve had the privilege of working with him as a FLASH Leadership Partner for more than 15 years. But in the course of preparing to celebrate him as 2015 National Weatherperson of the Year, I realized that there is so much to say about Max that it is difficult in a short narrative like this.

A Tweet about him might go something like this:

Max Mayfield. Jimmy Stewart/John Wayne mash-up. Kind, principled, yet unwavering. Soft spoken lifesaver of millions. #proven

That’s the short version. Let me also add what is indisputably in the record.

Max is a model husband, father, grandfather, and scientist. During his seven years as National Hurricane Center (NHC) Director, he saved millions of lives by combining his caring, trusted voice with excellent forecasting. His leadership helped guide those in harm’s way, especially during the unprecedented 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons with dangerous and devastating hurricanes like Charley and Katrina. Think lighthouse in a storm. That is Max.

He is revered by his friends and colleagues as a kind, consummate professional, generous mentor, and steadfast advocate for those in the meteorology profession, as well as the profession itself. Many lined up to provide tributes for his recognition as the 2015 National Weatherperson of the Year, including leaders like Former Governor Jeb Bush who worked closely with Max throughout those tough seasons and Governor Mary Fallin from his home state of Oklahoma.

You can view a video highlight reel from the evening here where former CNN Miami Bureau Chief John Zarrella characterized Max’s legacy in modern terms, “How many of you have a Jeopardy question about you? How many have your own App?” (He is now a Hurricane Specialist at WPLG-10 Miami and they have an app called the “Max Tracker”. It has nearly 98,000 downloads. Impressive!)

Here’s how he’s made a difference in the disaster-safety and resilience movement worldwide.

Max was the first NHC Director to formally join us in 2004 to support our cause of protecting families and homes through more resilient building codes and practices. His trusted voice was a game changer for us. He went beyond his traditional role of predicting hurricanes, and used his high profile to advance the idea that property protection isn’t the sole responsibility of government or insurers. He helped leaders and families understand that they can and should make decisions to achieve safety and protect homes simultaneously.

He has supported many of our most important projects, including the Blueprint for Safety, Tale of Two Homes: Hurricane Charley, our Disney experience StormStruck: A Tale of Two Homes, and our own weather app FLASH Wx Alerts. He contributes to our policy forums and annual conferences; has co-published with us on topics like flood safety and much, much more. His presence injects credibility and draws high-value support for the cause.

I am sure you can see why we have selected Max Mayfield as the 2015 National Weatherperson of the Year. He was the clear choice, and can now add our recognition to a list of dozens, including ABC Television Network’s “Person of the Week”; Government Communicator of the Year by the National Association of Government Communicators (NAGC); Presidential Rank Award for Meritorious Service and countless more listed here.

So Max, we look forward to continuing our work with you as we advocate for storm safety and structure resiliency—a cause for which you sounded one of the earliest and loudest trumpets. Meanwhile, please accept our heartfelt congratulations and know that we are #evergrateful.

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.”