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.

 

 

 

 

2015 Florida Mayor’s Resilience Symposium: Local Leaders Rising to Meet the Wicked Problem of Resilience

frDuring 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.

Youth Preparedness Takes Center Stage—White House Style

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In January, I had the great honor of anchoring a delegation of FLASH partners to participate in a White House recognition ceremony celebrating the National Strategy for Youth Preparedness Education.

FEMA launched the initiative in September of 2014 with a goal to bring children into the disaster-safety movement through innovative programs like America’s PrepareAthon!; the American Red Cross Pillowcase Project; and several of our own, including StormStruck: A Tale of Two Homes® at INNOVENTIONS at Epcot® at the Walt Disney World® Resort.

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.

IdeaScale: A Valuable Tool to Advance Discussion & Debate About Disaster Resilience

If you want to understand policy directions in disaster planning or learn about resilience strategies, there’s an app for that. Okay, it’s really a tool. Take a look and see if you’re as wowed by its potential as I am. The site is a combination of forums, new ideas, polling, feedback on current policies, and conversations among experts. And it’s quite remarkable.

In a way, it’s a combination of crowdsourcing, strategy storehouse, and intellectual proving grounds. From what I saw, it’s also focused and stimulating. There is no limit to the number of topics and conversations to which the site can give rise.

Admittedly, I am late to join this game, but I recently signed up and hope you will too. We need to keep the existing conversations going, and you can start a new conversation too.

It’s not just about debate, though. This can be a place to turn for help, a community to ask for information, and a forum to test your own ideas by sharing them with others who are committed to our cause.

When you think about it, there is nothing more valuable than the unfiltered experience of a diverse, passionate community. While we might not like to see our ideas waved before a group of potential critics, FEMA has boldly decided to provide a forum for those with suggestions and feedback on the agency’s own policies.

Most of the commentary I saw was thoughtful. People don’t hold back, though, whether they are identifiable by name or anonymous.

In our field, doesn’t it make sense that the more enlightened people who join a conversation, the more light we may shed on difficult or troubling subjects? So how about it? Let’s put our brightest ideas out there and see what new notions come bouncing back.

Connect. Collaborate. Champion. The Resilience Revolution Needs You at the 2014 FLASH Annual Conference.

The word “revolution” comes from the Latin revolutio, “a turnaround”, and generally refers to change over a short period of time. So, given that we have been promoting disaster resilience for decades, you might wonder why we themed our 2014 Annual Conference, Resilience Revolution.

Here’s why: this is our time. We believe that for a host of reasons, including Hurricane Sandy, mission convergence with the climate resilience community, and an increased global interest in severe weather, our best opportunity to advance the cause of better building is right now.

But it won’t last indefinitely. We need disaster safety stakeholders to come together before the opportunity wanes. We need you to join us at the FLASH Annual Conference.

Once you arrive, you’ll find that sparks fly, in a good way. Journalists interview leaders. Panelists talk and debate. Experts meet others outside of their specialties.

Manufacturers huddle with researchers. Social psychologists share insights with communicators. After two days, everyone leaves with a better handle on how to motivate behavior change through policy leadership, marketplace innovation, and ground-up programs.

Ours is a gathering of public, private, and nonprofit organizations assembled in the spirit of one mission—strengthening homes and safeguarding families.

This year we will bring back Jim Cantore of The Weather Channel and former CNN Bureau Chief John Zarrella. Researchers from MIT, Carnegie Mellon University, and my own alma mater, University of Florida will dazzle us with breakthrough thinking. FEMA leaders, NOAA leaders, and the National Hurricane Center Directors past and present will all join us.

Corporate leaders from various sectors, including BASF—The Chemical Company, Kohler Generators, The Home Depot, Huber, Portland Cement Association, Simpson Strong-Tie Co., Target, USAA, Walt Disney World, and WeatherPredict Consulting, Inc. will help us find opportunities to advance resilience through the marketplace. These are essential voices.

We’ll share best practices with the voluntary responder organizations like the HandsOn Network and Lutheran Social Services.

We’ll talk about saving lives, preventing injuries, and shielding structures from nature’s destructive forces with academics that have dedicated their lives and careers to the cause.

We’ll have policy leaders from Florida League of Cities and the Texas Office of Public Insurance Counsel as well as mayors who have dealt with the catastrophic effects of natural disasters. These are resilience true believers, especially those that have brought their cities back to life after earthquakes, hurricanes, and more.

Last but not least, you’ll meet the most important stakeholders—real families who have survived disasters. They serve as inspiration for us all.

Our conference is a rich cross-section of opportunities, and you never know what ideas will be sparked by a casual conversation. I remember when informal brainstorming at our conference led to an idea that is now the award-winning StormStruck A Tale of Two Homes® experience at Epcot® at the Walt Disney World® Resort. That’s real magic.

We might not come up with the next educational experience at a theme park, but I am certain you will leave our conference with at least ten new ideas.

Margaret Mead famously stated, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” We can’t advance disaster resilience without your commitment. Please join us while the revolution is still underway.

Earthquake Safety Messaging: Stand up. Speak up. Spread the Word.

Drop, Cover, and Hold On is the official message to families in earthquake-prone areas because we do not want people outside when building exteriors, roads, or even bridges may collapse.

And the recent magnitude 6.0 earthquake that rocked California’s Napa Valley is a sobering example of why. Experts agree that if the Napa Valley quake had struck at 3:20 p.m. instead of 3:20 a.m. that people who are typically dining, shopping, and walking near the historic downtown buildings would have been injured and likely killed. Even so, more than 200 people were injured in Napa, including a young boy who was struck by debris from a collapsing chimney.

When an earthquake occurs, we in the disaster safety movement know that we cannot drop out of sight, take cover, and hold on to the hope that the current crisis, or next one, will pass without severe damage or injuries.

It’s exactly at those times—the days and weeks immediately following such events—that we stand up, speak up, and spread the word.

We do a good job of pushing the safety message out before the earthquakes strike. For example, the Great ShakeOut drills reach millions across the globe annually. But, it is essential that we also quickly deliver messages across the U.S. immediately after an event because that is when we have the public’s rapt attention.

It’s human nature that when we associate any message with a real event, we listen better, learn more, and remember. That is why we leverage the “teaching moment” after a disaster by delivering messages about how to be safe and resilient.

I was gratified to see how many news organizations shared the information in the advisory that we sent out immediately after the Napa Valley earthquake. We got the attention of people in states outside of California by highlighting the U.S. Geological Survey maps that indicate 42 of 50 states have a reasonable chance of experiencing a significant seismic event during a 50-year span, which also happens to be the lifetime of a typical building.

It is tempting to remain quiet in the aftermath of any disaster out of respect for those affected, but if we did, we’d lose one of the best opportunities to motivate the public to take action. In earthquake zones, we want people to question how their building was constructed. Do they enjoy the safety of modern, model building codes and construction practices, or should they start planning to retrofit? Moreover, once they determine if the structure is sound, we want them to undertake nonstructural mitigation through simple, inexpensive measures like securing ceiling fans, chandeliers, bookcases, heavy objects, and breakables.

And consistent with the common occurrence of post-quake fires like we saw in Napa Valley, we want business owners and residents to learn where and how to shut off their natural gas supply.

When the earthquake fades from the headlines, many residents, even if physically and emotionally shaken, tend to think that it won’t happen again. They go about their lives, as if they were somehow made safer by the fact that a rare disaster event had just occurred.

That may be a natural reaction and understandable coping mechanism. And sometimes they are right. But sometimes, unfortunately, they are wrong. That’s why we must stand up, speak up, and spread the word until everyone understands why.

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.”