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.”