Tale of Two Homes Superstorm Sandy: A Family and the Decision that Saved their Lives

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It’s been two years since the rare and devastating Superstorm Sandy, but the timeless story of the Sochacki family and their survival endures. As Sandy barreled onshore in New York and New Jersey on October 20, 2012, John Seth and Karyn Sochacki barely escaped from their 1940 bungalow only to watch the storm wash it out to sea. Fortunately, they were able to take refuge next door in an elevated concrete home that weathered Sandy with little to no impact.

The Sochackis have turned their devastating loss into triumph by sharing their story and inspiring others to build with resilience in mind. The fourth installment of Tale of Two Homes video series that showcases their experience is now the most popular in the series with more than 8,500 views on the FLASH YouTube channel.

FLASH met the Sochacki family though its partners from the Portland Cement Association (PCA).  According to PCA’s Donn Thompson, “We appreciate the Sochackis’ willingness to share their story and inspire other families to build safe and strong. We are proud to partner with FLASH and share their dedication to helping families build to survive in the face of natural disaster of all kinds.”

Drop, Cover, and Hold On! Great ShakeOut Earthquake Drill Set for October 16

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Visit ShakeOut.org today to join millions of people in thousands of businesses, schools, and organizations registered worldwide to practice “Drop, Cover, and Hold On” on October 16. ShakeOut is a fast and fun drill that will help you, your family, and your coworkers get prepared to survive and recover quickly from the next big earthquake, no matter where it strikes.

“Everyone, everywhere, should know how to protect themselves in an earthquake,” said Mark Benthien, global coordinator of Great ShakeOut Earthquake Drills. “If earthquakes don’t happen where you live, they may happen where you travel.”

Registration is free, and the drill will only take a few minutes. The website has resources for planning, getting prepared for earthquakes, encouraging others to participate, and more.

Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail

By Terry Sheridan – FLASH Consumer Reporter

Most of us have heard “it takes a village” to do something. That hits home hard when it comes to surviving natural disasters. It takes you, your neighbors, your subdivision, your condo or homeowners association, and your town to prepare to survive.

September 1 marked the beginning of National Preparedness Month, a month-long campaign to raise awareness about disaster preparedness and inspire people to take action before a disaster strikes. The campaign culminates on September 30 with America’s PrepareAthon!, a day for “the village” to come together to practice preparedness through drills, group discussions, and exercises.

Kevin King, executive director of Mennonite Disaster Service in Lititz, Pa., knows all too well the importance of taking action to be disaster aware ahead of time, and the dangers that follow when you don’t. “If we try to do it on our own, we lose energy and focus,” says King, who offers recovery services nationwide and in Canada. “People say, ‘What’s the big deal? Why develop a disaster plan?’”

Then, in the aftermath, he hears, “If only I prepared.”

King offers the following preparation tips for your family and town to heed. We’ve suggested a few, as well.

  • Communications plan: Businesses, houses of worship, schools, homeowner associations – any operation that involves numerous people who may scatter before or after a disaster – should have a list of everyone’s cell phone numbers, where they would go if they leave, and emergency contacts’ names and phone numbers.
  • Inventory: Whether it’s your home or business, document what you have. Take photos, make lists. Scan these to your computer or a flash drive that can be stored in a safe deposit box, use cloud storage sites, or simply email the images to yourself so you can access them from any computer.
  • Copy important documents: Also scan and/or email to yourself insurance policies and cards, car titles, loan and mortgage paperwork, passports, driver’s licenses, prescriptions, and a list of medications you need. For good measure, consider carrying hard copies with you.
  • Pack a survival kit: Include water, non-perishable food, medications, documents, cell phone charger, blankets, maps, multi-purpose tool, personal hygiene items, first-aid kit, flashlight, batteries, and cash (ATMs won’t work during power outages).
  • Gas up the car: Unless a station has a generator, pumps won’t work during power outages.
  • Plan for your pets: Find out ahead of time which shelters allow pets. And bring water and food for them, too.
  • Practice your plan: “It’s even more important than having a plan on the shelf,” King says. Would your house of worship or school know how to get everyone to the basement if a tornado threatens? Who decides how it’s handled?
  • Know what’s coming: Whether you use a weather radio or your smartphone, know the status of approaching trouble. Last year, the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes released a Weather Radio smartphone app that provides alerts for up to 100 types of events. The app also includes safety and preparedness tips.
  • Take time to clean up outside: Remove debris, dead grass, leaves, and twigs, and cut back hanging tree branches. Clean out gutters to help move rain water from the home.
  • Strengthen your home: Visit flash.org to learn simple, affordable ways to mitigate damage from hazards of all kinds.

Finally, register for America’s PrepareAthon! and pledge to prepare your family and community before it’s too late.

As King and Benjamin Franklin put it, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.”

QuakeSmart Now—Earthquake Safe Later: California Employers Lead the Way

By Terry Sheridan – FLASH Consumer Reporter

The magnitude 6.0 earthquake that struck picturesque Napa Valley on August 24 was Northern California’s strongest since Loma Prieta 25 years earlier. And if there is anything positive to come from it, it’s that it likely shook awareness into people about the need to prepare.

That’s where QuakeSmart™ comes in.

QuakeSmart is a mitigation program for businesses launched in 2008 by FEMA and the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program. The goal is to guide business owners in protecting their buildings, employees, and equipment with non-structural and structural reinforcements.

That’s how Becky Pereira and Tom Spada, both in San Jose, California, discovered what they’d need to do for their homes or office buildings. They learned that mitigation efforts can be as simple or complex as you want to make them — including projects like anchoring office and kitchen appliances and securing cabinet doors, desks, file cabinets, computers, TVs, and racks.

Becky’s in charge of health and safety coordination as a vendor for a Silicon Valley technology company in three high-rise office buildings totaling 54 floors. Each floor has a break room with a refrigerator, beverage cooler, and countertop appliances like microwaves and coffeemakers. Labs for software testing have numerous equipment racks, and their café has larger kitchen appliances and equipment.

Her experience in the Quake Cottage™ simulator of a magnitude 8.0 earthquake during a Building Owners and Managers Association presentation helped convince her that mitigation was needed. As a result, she made sure that anything that could move or fall was anchored by a contractor’s crew who spent several nights doing the work.

Even more, employees were receptive to retrofitting their own homes after a few seconds of simulated shaking in the Quake Cottage which the company brought to its offices for employees to experience.

Tom is the facilities maintenance administrator for the Santa Clara Valley Water District. He oversees maintenance of an administrative campus that includes six office buildings, a yard, two warehouses, four water treatment plants, three pump stations, and a water quality lab where one piece of equipment alone costs $500,000.

Bearing in mind that Santa Clara County sits atop three major fault lines, Tom brought in a contractor who provided anchoring kits and trained and certified Tom’s staff so that everyone knows how to use the tie-downs. So far, the project has cost about $7,300 for the lab.

Tom’s unsure how much the overall cost will be, but he is sure of an earthquake’s toll. A prior water treatment plant was destroyed in the 1989 magnitude 6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake that decimated the San Francisco-Oakland area.   

Nothing is foolproof, of course. But, as Becky says, “It’s not if another quake will hit. It’s when.”

Find out more about QuakeSmart and what you can do at flash.org/quakesmart, and consider joining FLASH and QuakeSmart for a free Earthquake 2014 Summit on Sept. 18 in Riverside, California or Oct. 30 in the San Francisco Bay Area. Visit www.earthquake2014summit.com for more information.

Forty-two States At Risk for Earthquake: Residents Should Prepare Now

Early damage reports from today’s earthquake validate the case for simple preparations for families and small businesses to help prevent injury, property damage, and post-earthquake fires

(Tallahassee, FL) Citing today’s Magnitude 6.0 Northern California earthquake, the nonprofit Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH) urges residents in 42 USGS-identified earthquake states to take immediate action to prevent injuries, property damage, and post-earthquake fires.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), “While all states have some potential for earthquakes, 42 of the 50 states have a reasonable chance of experiencing damaging ground shaking from an earthquake in 50 years (the typical lifetime of a building). Scientists also conclude that 16 states have a relatively high likelihood of experiencing damaging ground shaking. These states have historically experienced earthquakes with a magnitude 6.0 or greater. The hazard is especially high along the west coast, intermountain west, and in several active regions of the central and eastern U.S., such as near New Madrid, MO, and near Charleston, SC. The 16 states at highest risk are Alaska, Arkansas, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.”  USGS published new national seismic hazard maps last month.

“Buildings constructed with strong, modern seismic codes and standards will perform better in earthquakes, but it is up to the resident or building owner to take actions inside and around the structure to prevent injuries and interior damage from falling objects, broken glass, and gas leaks,” said FLASH President and CEO Leslie Chapman-Henderson. “Most of these critical preparations require only household tools and basic home improvement skills, so acting now before the next earthquake can mean the difference between life and death.”

Chapman-Henderson provided prevention examples for homes and small businesses, including:

  • Support ceiling fans and light fixtures using bracing wire secured to a screw eye embedded at least an inch into the ceiling joist.
  • Anchor the tops of bookcases, file cabinets, and entertainment centers to one or more studs with flexible fasteners.
  • Secure loose shelving by fastening screws into the cabinet or with museum putty placed at each corner bracket.
  • Secure china, collectibles, trophies, and other shelf items with museum putty.
  • Install a lip or blocking device to prevent books or other articles from falling off shelves.
  • Secure televisions, computers, and stereos with buckles and safety straps that also allow easy removal and relocation.
  • Install latches on cabinet doors to prevent them from opening and spilling out contents.
  • Hang mirrors, pictures, and plants using closed hooks to prevent items from falling.
  • Cover windows with approved shatter-resistant safety film to protect against broken glass.
  • Ensure appliances have flexible gas or electrical connections.
  • Strap the top and bottom of a water heater using heavy-gauge metal strapping secured to wall studs.
  • Locate gas shutoff valve and know how to turn off the gas supply with the use of a specialty wrench. (video)
  • Relocate flammable liquids to a garage or outside storage location.

More free information and videos are available online at flash.org, www.youtube.com/stronghomes, and QuakeSmart.

Technical information is derived from FEMA document E-74 Reducing the Risks of Nonstructural Earthquake Damage. QuakeSmart is a FEMA National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP) initiative to help businesses in at-risk communities implement mitigation actions in addition to basic preparedness activities, such as creating and exercising disaster plans, preparing disaster supply kits, and knowing how to Drop, Cover, and Hold On (www.ShakeOut.org).

Hurricane Charley and the Tale of Two Homes: 10 Years Later

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By Terry Sheridan, FLASH Consumer Blogger

It’s been 10 years since Hurricane Charley tore through Punta Gorda on Florida’s Gulf Coast – a Category 4 monster that was the strongest to hit the U.S. since Andrew in 1992. Punta Gorda homeowner Jim Minardi survived Charley, but he isn’t about to throw any anniversary parties. The August 2004 storm pummeled his 43-year-old home, shearing off the roof, blowing out windows and trashing all of his possessions. Fortunately, he and his dogs were unhurt, and his partner, Teresa Fogolini, was out of town.

When the storm was farther south around Sanibel Island, Jim thought he could make a run for it out of the area. After all, Charley was a Category 1 storm with winds below 100 mph at that point. But, as hurricanes often do, it grew more fierce. By the time it churned through Charlotte Harbor, Charley packed a lot more muscle. By then, it was too late to leave.

Jim hunkered down in a windowless interior bathroom and waited. There was little damage to his home before the calm of the eye passed over. So during “halftime,” as he puts it, Jim went to a neighbor’s shuttered home to wait out the rest of the storm. It was the back end of the storm that ripped into Jim’s home – and his roof crashed into that same neighbor’s pool screening.

Thanks to interest from Home Improvement expert Bob Vila and FLASH, one year later, Jim and Teresa were in a new home built to state-of-the-art building codes and hurricane protective measures. You can see the before-and-after and what was done to bolster their new home’s safety in this “Tale of Two Homes” video. Despite a much more hurricane-resistant home, the Charley ordeal and aftermath left Jim wiser – and worried during hurricane season, particularly for people with older homes.

Retrofit, retrofit, retrofit as much as possible, he urges those homeowners. Roofing tie downs and hurricane shutters are “cheap insurance,” Jim says. The rebuilt home has impact-resistant windows, so Jim believes he can forego shutters.

There’s one thing he considered adding to the new home: a safe room. Punta Gorda officials pointed out it would only be useful for tornadoes, not hurricanes, because the home’s waterfront location made it vulnerable to rising waters from storm surge. Officials warned that Jim and Teresa should always consider evacuation because they could drown if they stayed behind in a hurricane.

So, given that his home is much sturdier than the previous one, would Jim leave or go through another storm? “I ask myself that all the time,” he says. While he believes the reinforced home would withstand the impact, the trauma of what he endured with Charley lingers.

“I think I would leave,” he says. “But I’m pretty confident the home will be there after the next storm.”

Find more information about hurricanes and how to protect your home at flash.org.

Editor’s Note: Terry Sheridan is an award-winning journalist who has more than 30 years of experience in reporting and editing for newspapers in the Chicago and Miami areas. She covered the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew’s devastation in 1992 in South Florida, and has experienced damage to her own homes from two hurricanes. She now lives in New Hampshire.

Disaster Savings Accounts Would Help Shore Up Homes and Finances

By Terry Sheridan, FLASH Consumer Blogger

Residents of Oso, Washington were traumatized on March 22 when a massive mudslide swept through the area engulfing homes and claiming lives.  Months later, residents are still handling the aftermath of this tragedy as best as possible, but the financial burdens of rebuilding often become as traumatic as the disaster itself.

Help could be on the way in the form of proposed federal legislation allowing homeowners and renters to set aside up to $5,000 every year in a disaster savings account – tax-free if the money is used for post-disaster repairs or pre-disaster mitigation.  The money rolls over every year and there’s no limit to how much can be accumulated.

If the Disaster Savings Accounts Act which is still wending its way through Congressional committees passes, homeowners and renters alike could establish accounts to use for future natural disasters.

“Disaster Savings Accounts would provide people the opportunity to protect their belongings and families,” says U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.), co-sponsor of the bill with U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.).

While the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and other government agencies provide limited relief to disaster victims, “… recovery assistance is after the fact,” Ross says. “We want to equip homeowners so that they can protect themselves before a disaster strikes and not when they’re forced to rummage through the remains of their homes after a flood, hurricane or earthquake.”

Ahead of a disaster, the pre-tax savings can be used to pay for home fortifications such as a safe room, wind resistant windows and doors, or elevating structures in flood zones.  After a disaster, savings can be used to help close the gap between insurance deductibles and other recovery funds.  In that case, the event must be a state or federally declared disaster and the homeowner or renter must have uninsured losses totaling at least $3,000.

“Insurance doesn’t cover all losses or cleanup expenses, particularly personal losses,” says former FEMA director James Lee Witt, Democratic candidate for the 4th Congressional District in Arkansas.  For example, if the bill was in effect at the time of the mudslide, Oso residents with accounts could have used them to cover uninsured personal casualty losses above $3,000 because they are in a formal disaster area.

Supporters for the bill come from all sectors, e.g. FLASH, The Home Depot, National Association of Home Builders, National Association of Insurance Commissioners, The Nature Conservancy and leaders like Moore, Oklahoma Mayor Glenn Lewis and former FEMA director James Lee Witt.

Editor’s Note: Terry Sheridan is an award-winning journalist who has more than 30 years of experience in reporting and editing for newspapers in the Chicago and Miami areas. She covered the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew’s devastation in 1992 in South Florida, and has experienced damage to her own homes from two hurricanes. She now lives in New Hampshire.