With more than $40 billion in insured losses due to wildfire in just the past three years, understanding wildfire threats to homes and families is vital. This episode offers an in-depth conversation about the continuing toll of wildfire losses across the United States, making it clear that there is STILL more to do. You can do your part by participating in the National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) Wildfire Community Preparedness Day, this Saturday, May 1.
Thanks to the generous support from National Wildfire Preparedness Day sponsor State Farm, 150 communities received project funding awards to support activities aimed at reducing potential loss of life, property, and natural resources to wildfire.
Please join me and my guest Michele Steinberg, Wildfire Division Director with the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). We discuss the new Outthink Wildfire Initiative, wildfire mitigation, defensible space, and the importance of wildfire prevention.
Vis-a-vis Nature: How and where to build before paying for development and disasters (3:20)
Firewise: Dependent on Forest Service grants, now partners for preparedness campaign (5:20)
Typical Wildfires: What does and doesn’t make wildfire a risk? (7:09)
Embers Ignite: Dry leaves that accumulate and pile up in corners and gutters do damage (9:10)
Wildfire Mitigation: Protect your home before because nobody will be there with a hose (10:50)
Effective Measures: Make sure home envelope and exterior is ignition resistant (12:25)
What’s fuel?: Pine needles, leaves, trees, and homes – no fuel means no fire (16:46)
First Saturday in May: Wildfire Community Prep Day to spread awareness, reduce risk (22:46)
Outthink Wildfire Initiative: Wildfires are going to happen and will not be extinguished (24:51)
Mitigate Risk/Retrofit: Use and enforce sensible building codes and land use standards (29:37)
House/Structure Fire vs. Wildfire: 37% of fire responders are trained, only ⅔ have PPE (34:17)
I hope you enjoy this 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:
Building Codes Save Study with FEMA’s Ed Laatsch, Director – Safety, Planning, and Building Science Division of the Federal Insurance and Mitigation Administration (FIMA), Risk Management Directorate – Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
Building Codes Save Study with FEMA’s Ed Laatsch, Director – Safety, Planning, and Building Science Division of the Federal Insurance and Mitigation Administration (FIMA), Risk Management Directorate – Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
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.
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)
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
Loss of Use reimbursement may be available if your home is rendered uninhabitable.
Food spoilage caused by power outage may be covered, typically with a limit of $500.
Tree removal is not covered unless the tree hits a covered structure.
Increased electric bills may be covered if fans and other equipment are needed to dry out a damaged structure.
Temporary repairs are typically covered if they are deemed reasonable and necessary.
Automobile damage is covered so long as your policy includes “comprehensive” coverage.
Flood insurance is not covered under a regular homeowner’s insurance policy, and requires a separate purchase.
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:
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.
During the summer of 2012, I delivered a workshop on disaster mitigation as part of the Florida League of Mayors/League of Cities Annual Conference. I always reflect after a speaking engagement, and while I perceived that the audience was interested, I wasn’t sure I generated “edge of the seat” engagement. Understandably, Mayors are constantly balancing a long list of important priorities, and presenters just like me are always competing for their attention.
Fast forward to the summer of 2014 when I spoke again at the same conference. The audience was not only engaged, but they were on their feet. Mayor Ashton Hayward of Pensacola told us about wind mitigation retrofit programs. Mayor Sam Ferreri, an architect by profession, detailed flood mitigation infrastructure projects in his Palm Beach County community of Greenacres. All present joined the discussion of sea level rise impacts and the bipartisan South Florida Climate Action Pledge.
So what changed from 2012 to 2014? Clearly, resilience had “arrived”. Indeed, it had moved to the top of the long list of mayoral “to do’s”.
To keep the momentum going following the 2014 conference, we forged an official partnership with the Florida League of Mayors to advance our shared commitment to resilience. During May of this year, we convened the first Florida Mayors Resilience Symposium where we connected our groups and delivered a day-long program of information on disaster and climate resiliency from all angles.
In my talk, I outlined the essential elements for strong, safe, and resilient communities. Namely: strong, well-enforced codes and standards; consumers and leaders who understand, value, and demand stronger, safer buildings; higher education that includes building codes and mitigation; incentives (insurance, real estate, and tax); innovators in all sectors; and research—building, social science, and more.
I shared my conviction formed from more than 17 years in this movement that Mayors hold a powerful key. They can make the case for policies that prepare their constituents for the future. They can open (or close) the doors to adoption of modern, model building codes, and the resources necessary for enforcement of same. They can give voice to resilience as a top priority in their communities because, like politics, all disasters are local.
Federal and state governments can provide resources to communities to increase resilience beforehand, and they certainly provide resources for recovery after the fact. But the communities that are truly resilient take ownership and make it a priority to put all the pieces together ahead of time in a way that is unique to its culture, history, and values.
That is why mayors are the MVPs on the team for climate and disaster resilience.
We saw evidence of this during Ft. Myers’ Mayor Randall Henderson’s symposium presentation. He shared their waterside development plan that incorporated flood maps, evacuation zone maps, and more. Clearly, their planning incorporated insights from our friends at NOAA.
We also heard a passionate call to action from former county commissioner/now Florida State Representative Kristin Jacobs who riveted the gathering with her clarity on sea level rise and linkage between disaster and climate resilience.
This groundswell of local leadership, along with impressive initiatives to measure and quantify resilience driven by federal resources, is creating excitement and commitment that we need to advance our shared cause. However, we still need all sectors to commit and participate.
Joe Tankersley of Unique Visions, a futurist, former Walt Disney Imagineer, and member of our board of directors led the closing dialogue at the symposium and introduced resilience as a “wicked problem” requiring foresight and strategic decisions. The term “wicked problem” was popularized in the 1973 article Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning by Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber, and it “refers to a complex problem for which there is no simple method of solution.” [Financial Times http://www.ft.com/home/us]
We agree with Joe. There is no better term when discussing the issue of resilience, and we need continue to create innovative, multi-discipline solutions to achieve our desired goals. So as we expand our partnership with the Florida League of Mayors to mayors across the nation, we will continue to listen to local challenges and needs. We will develop information and tools to empower local leaders. And we will craft innovative solutions to disaster-safety barriers.
When we do this, we will continue our trek down this path to a world that not only survives disasters, but bounces back better than before.
This was not a first-time award or recognition for StormStruck, but it is especially meaningful to us as some considered the project quite risky before opening in 2008. Not everyone shared our vision of using the proven Disney formula for “edu-tainment” to carry the message of disaster-safety and mitigation to guests of all ages. Some doubted that StormStruck could leverage storytelling to empower future generations to prepare and choose resilient structures. Some even considered tackling disaster topics in an entertainment venue inappropriate, not serious enough.
But we were confident. We had committed partners. And we were right.
Millions of happy guests later, we realized we had created something extraordinary—and not just for the kids. Visitors from around the globe, including disaster victims, have come through our 4D storm, played our dynamic rebuilding game, and enjoyed the myriad show elements. And periodic guest surveys demonstrate that they not only get the point of the venue, but they want everyone in harm’s way to come, learn, and enjoy.
Think about it. As parents, we know that our children can influence our decision-making about everything from where to grocery shop to social-change movements. Consider the generation of children who grew up recycling and the impact on the green movement. It’s a two-way formula. Our kids wear seat belts, and eschew cigarette smoking. We could hardly do differently.
In FEMA’s Preparedness in America report, household survey findings indicate that “households with school children who brought home preparedness materials were significantly more likely to report preparing than those who did not receive materials: they were 75 percent more likely to have a household plan they had discussed as a family, and twice as likely to have participated in a home drill.”
One way or another, our kids influence our behavior, and that makes a focus on youth preparedness doubly effective.
Before I joined the disaster-safety movement, I had the privilege to work with highway safety advocates on issues from bicycle helmets to drunk-driving prevention. One day, I learned firsthand how even incidental messaging can affect children. My daughter was about four years old, and frequently accompanied me to safety events. One day right after I had put her in her car seat to head out, I got behind the wheel and picked up my can of Tab (years before Diet Coke). All of a sudden, I heard a little voice from the back say, “Mommy, don’t drink and drive!”
I was amazed. For just a moment, I considered trying to explain the difference between alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages, but immediately abandoned the idea. I realized that she had gotten a safety message, embraced it, and was going to share it. I said, “Okay of course,” threw away the soda and drove on.
The experience reinforced for me the power and responsibility we have when messaging to children. In my work since then, I have learned that unlike the scare tactics of the past, today’s successful initiatives put children and adults alike in charge of safety and resilience by engaging without frightening. In true Disney style, we make them the hero.
According to FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, “Children who learn about emergency preparedness experience less anxiety during an actual emergency or disaster. This National Strategy will encourage communities and organizations to give children and their families the information they need to prepare for disasters.”
FEMA has it figured out. Youth preparedness isn’t just about youth. Young people both learn and teach.
And if we’re smart, we will remain their students.