The Only Thing Worse Than No Tornado Safe Room is an Improperly Installed Tornado Safe Room

By Jay Hamburg, FLASH Consumer Writer

The deadly outbreak of tornadoes in Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas, and across the central United States serves as a stark reminder of the lifesaving value that safe rooms can provide. At the same time, some tragic cases remind us that safe rooms can only protect you and your loved ones if they are properly installed.

Reports that heavy rainfalls caused some underground tornado safe rooms to pop up out of the ground serve as warnings that even a heavy, sturdy, underground tornado safe room can be dislodged by unexpected water flow during a tornado when installed the wrong way.

And, regardless of installation quality, you should never enter an underground tornado safe room if flooding is expected as water flow could cover air vents, or drowning could occur.

“If you have an underground tornado safe room, proper stabilizing and anchoring is very straightforward,” said FLASH SVP Tim Smail. “We recommend using a National Storm Shelter Association Installer Member or ensure your installer follows the ICC/NSSA-500 standard or FEMA P-361 guidelines.”

There are also many affordable options for prefabricated and site-built tornado safe rooms. Prefabricated safe rooms are those that are assembled off-site and transported to the site where they will be installed. A site-built safe room is assembled and installed on-site. Regardless of which type of safe room you choose, be sure to discuss the following with your safe room installation contractor:

  1. Is your home located in a floodplain? If so, keep in mind FEMA P-361 does not allow safe rooms to be installed in high-risk flood hazard areas.
  2. Does your property have the proper access for equipment needed for installation? Installation could involve a large crane or flatbed truck.
  3. Are there easements on your property that would limit where a safe room could be installed?
  4. Have you checked with your neighborhood association to see what design or structural guidelines must be followed? Many associations have rules regarding outdoor structures and their placement.

Most types of tornado safe rooms can be installed and completed in a day, with the average cost for an 8-by-8 foot room ranging from $8,000 to $9,500. Each offers different advantages, but when built and installed properly, all provide the best available life safety and property protection against tornadoes. And it is essential that we point out the need to use a tested door.

The myth that there is nothing you can do to protect against a tornado is false. We want consumers to know that they can survive if they choose smart. Our new video series, Which Tornado Safe Room is Right for You, will help them get started.

FLASH and Partners Answer Questions About Natural Disaster Insurance and Home Preparation with Updated Publication

Nonprofit Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH)® today released an updated version of their most popular publication, If Disaster Strikes Will You Be Covered? A Homeowner’s Insurance Guide to Natural Disasters.

Updated in time for the June 1 start of hurricane season, FLASH and The Actuarial Foundation are offering the free, comprehensive consumer guide online as well as, on a limited basis, in print in English and Spanish with topics covering earthquake, flood, hail, hurricane, lightning, power outage, tornado, wildfire, and winter freeze. The Guide addresses how to stay safe, save money, and protect homes with answers to top consumer questions, including:

  1. What disasters are covered in my insurance policy?
  2. How can I lower premiums?
  3. What steps should I take to prevent damage to my home?

With single year views of up to 500,000, the Guide is in demand by homeowners and renters alike. “For more than 16 years, we have provided information to consumers before, during, and after natural catastrophes,” said FLASH President and CEO, Leslie Chapman-Henderson. “We are honored to collaborate with The Actuarial Foundation to make a new version of this information-rich publication possible once again.”

“The Actuarial Foundation is proud to partner with FLASH in updating the well-known If Disaster Strikes Will You Be Covered? A Homeowners’ Insurance Guide to Natural Disasters,” said Actuarial Foundation Executive Director, Eileen Streu. “The Guide is a reliable resource and remains one of the most popular publications for FLASH partners and consumers visiting the Foundation’s website.”

Visit Homeowner’s Insurance Guide to download and share the Guide or email info@flash.org for more information.

New Videos from the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH)® Meet Demand for Tornado Safe Room Information

Nonprofit releases “Which Tornado Safe Room is Right for You?” video series in conjunction with America’s PrepareAthon! national readiness campaign

(Tallahassee, FL)— According to tornado watch data from the National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center, nearly 90% of U.S. counties experienced tornado watches between 2004 and 2013, for an average of 27 watch hours per year. In response to increased interest in tornado safe rooms driven by this pattern, as well as recent, deadly outbreaks, the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH) today released new videos highlighting five of the most common tornado safe room choices.

FLASH, FEMA, and Portland Cement Association developed the video series in response to consumer desire to better understand their tornado safe room options. The series, “Which Tornado Safe Room is Right for You?”, provides comparative information on cast-in-place, concrete block masonry, insulated concrete forms, precast concrete, and wood-frame safe rooms.

“Today’s marketplace offers an unprecedented range of high-performing, affordable options to save lives and preserve peace of mind for the millions of families in the path of severe weather,” said FLASH President and CEO Leslie Chapman-Henderson. “These videos will help families understand their options for a properly built safe room that will deliver life safety when it counts.”

The new video series is offered in conjunction with America’s PrepareAthon!, an opportunity for individuals, organizations, and communities to come together and prepare for specific hazards through drills, group discussions, and exercises. April 30 is National PrepareAthon! Day, a day to take action in advance of natural hazards, including tornadoes.

To find out more about tornado safe rooms visit flash.org.

All Hail…Spring is Time for Impact-Resistant Roofing

By Terry Sheridan, FLASH consumer writer

There’s no mistaking it. When you hear what sounds like golf balls cascading on your roof during a storm, it means hail. Hail can pit, dent, and shred your roof. But it doesn’t have to. So here’s a homeowner tip—consider an impact-resistant roof.

Hail is no small matter. It causes about $1 billion dollars in damage to crops and property each year, according to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). In 2013, there were 5,457 major hail storms nationwide, with most occurring in May, June, and July. Texas had the largest number of major hail storms, followed by Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and South Dakota.

Impact-resistant roofs are typically asphalt or metal roofing materials. But, these types of roofs can also be made to appear like wood or slate—thanks to materials like concrete, plastic, recycled rubber, or molded polymer that can be fashioned to look like the real thing.

The added impact-resistant roof protection is more expensive, but costs vary nationwide and by material. In Texas, for example, an asphalt impact-resistant roof can cost about $30 more per square foot—$1,200 for your average 4000-square foot roof, says John Hadden, loss mitigation coordinator for State Farm Insurance Company in Texas (State Farm is a FLASH Legacy Partner).

You’ll want either Class 3 or Class 4 roof material that meets the UL 2218 or FM 4473 test standards. Here’s why that’s important. Class 4 roof material has been tested to withstand the impact of a 2-inch diameter steel ball, simulating hail of a similar size and density, with no damage or fracture to the shingle. Class 3 roof material can withstand 1.75-inch steel ball.

Keep in mind, too, that “impact-resistant” doesn’t mean hail only. It also includes high winds and flying debris.

There’s another reason a Class 3 or 4 roof is important to you—it can save you money on your insurance premium. This varies by where you live and what kinds of weather and natural disaster losses your area faces. But, generally, discounts (that average around 15 percent) or can range from 1 percent to 29 percent, Hadden says.

Premium discounts last the lifetime of the roof—which varies by the type of material—and are transferable to another owner if you sell the house. The economics work well because the upgraded roof pays for itself over time.

Finally, keep in mind that not all roofing contractors who arrive in your neighborhood after a storm are reputable. Some will come seeking to sell impact-resistant roofs to homeowners, but these fraudsters won’t put on an impact-resistant roof, even if they charge for one. They’ll install a cheaper one instead and bill the insurers for the more expensive material.

So, homeowners should be on alert for these types of practices, and take steps to avoid fraud. Ask for references, and be sure to check them. Ask for proof of insurance, and never pay upfront before installations. Verify the roofing shingle products that the contractor is installing are the ones YOU ordered. Check the shingle package label and keep a copy for your records.

Remember, your roof doesn’t have to be damaged by hail. Consider an impact-resistant roof and be ready for hail, golf balls, or whatever comes your way.

8 Last Minute Extreme Cold Weather Tips for Families

With snow, strong winds and potential blizzard conditions in the forecast, FLASH offers the following eight (8) last minute tips to help protect your family and home.

Keep Safe & Warm

  1. Gather together an emergency kit and include flashlights, batteries, blankets, a battery-powered or hand-crank radio, non-perishable food, a can opener, cash, and an external battery pack for mobile devices.
  2. Organize layers of loose fitting, lightweight; warm clothing rather than one layer of heavy clothing. The outer garments should be tightly woven and water repellent.
  3. Use all heaters, fireplaces, generators and other appliances safely by remembering ventilation and avoiding use in wet areas. Never burn charcoal indoors.
  4. Fill up your car fuel tank at least half full in case of a prolonged power outage as gas stations rely on electricity to operate pumps and may not have a generator.
  5. Text SHELTER + your ZIP code to 43362 (4FEMA) to find the nearest shelter in your area (example: shelter 12345) if you cannot safely shelter at home.

Protect Your Home

  1. Insulate pipes exposed to the elements or cold drafts with insulating foam. For as little as $1 per 6’ of insulation, you can stop pipes from freezing and save energy. If you cannot purchase insulating foam in time, consider wrapping towels around pipes and fastening them with duct tape.
  2. Place an insulating dome or other covering on outdoor faucets and spigots to help prevent inside the pipes from freezing, expanding and causing costly leaks.
  3. Drip faucets to reduce the build-up of pressure in the pipes. Even if the pipes freeze, you have released the pressure from the water system reducing the likelihood of a rupture. If you are going out of town, and suspect that temperatures will drop or a power outage will occur, turn off the water to your home and open all of the taps to drain the water system to avoid returning to wet and damaged flooring, walls and electrical.

For more winter safety and prevention information, tips and resources, visit the Great Winter Weather Party. To enter to win a KOHLER standby generator to keep your home running when the power goes out, visit the sweepstakes entry page.

21 Affordable Winter Safety Tips for Families

According to the National Weather Service, extreme cold and winter storms in 2013 resulted in 46 deaths and extensive disruptions for thousands of families. Another cold blast this week prompts FLASH to offer 21 winter and power outage safety tips to keep families safe and warm.

Affordable Ways to Protect Your Home

For as little as $1 per 6’ of insulation, you can stop pipes from freezing during winter and even when the power goes out.

1. Insulate pipes exposed to the elements or cold drafts with insulating foam. For as little as $1 per 6’ of insulation, you can stop pipes from freezing and save energy.

2. Place an insulating dome or other covering on outdoor faucets and spigots to reduce the likelihood of the water in your pipes freezing, expanding, and causing a costly leak.

3. Drip faucets to reduce the build-up of pressure in the pipes. Even if the pipes freeze, you have released the pressure from the water system reducing the likelihood of a rupture. If you are going out of town, and suspect that temperatures will drop or a power outage will occur, turn off the water to your home and open all of the taps to drain the water system. This way you won’t return to a frozen, soggy mess.

4. Check for air leaks around windows and doors using a lit incense stick. If the smoke is sucked out of an opening, seal the leak with caulk, spray foam or weather stripping.

Keep Your Family Safe & Warm

5. Keep a supply of flashlights, batteries and a battery-powered radio on hand. Do not use candles as they pose a fire hazard.

6. After the power goes out, make sure to turn off all lights but one, to alert you when power resumes.

7. Resist the temptation to call 911 for information during power outages. Instead use your battery-powered radio for information.

8. Keep your car fuel tank at least half full as gas stations rely on electricity to operate their pumps and may not have back-up power.

9. Keep extra cash on hand since an extended power outage may prevent you from withdrawing money from ATMs or banks.

10. Be a snow angel. Volunteer to check on elderly neighbors, friends, or relatives who may need assistance during the outage.

11. Wear layers of loose fitting, lightweight, warm clothing rather than one layer of heavy clothing. The outer garments should be tightly woven and water repellent. Never burn charcoal for heating or cooking indoors.

12. If you are using a gas heater or fireplace to stay warm, be sure the area is properly ventilated.

13. Arrange ahead of time with family, friends, or neighbors for a place to go if you have an extended outage. If you have nowhere to go, head to a designated public shelter. Text SHELTER + your ZIP code to 43362 (4FEMA) to find the nearest shelter in your area (example: shelter 12345)

Food

14. Keep a supply of non-perishable foods, medicine, baby supplies, and pet food on hand, and have at least one gallon of water per person per day on hand.

15. Avoid opening the fridge or freezer. Food should be safe as long as the outage lasts no more than four hours.

Generators

16. Do not run a generator inside a home or garage. Use gas-powered generators only in well-ventilated areas.

17. Follow manufacturer’s instructions such as only connect individual appliances to portable generators.

18. Don’t plug emergency generators into electric outlets or hook them directly to your home’s electrical system as they can feed electricity back into the power lines, putting you and line workers in danger.

19. Consider purchasing and installing a permanent home generator with an automatic on switch.

When Power Returns

20. When power comes back on, it may come back with momentary “surges” or “spikes” that can damage equipment such as computers and motors in appliances like the air conditioner, refrigerator, washer or furnace. Be sure to install a system of surge protection that consists of point-of-use devices and whole house surge protection.

21. When power is restored, wait a few minutes before turning on major appliances to help eliminate potential problems caused from sharp increases in demand.

For more information, tips and resources for winter safety visit the Great Winter Weather Party preparedness campaign.

 

13 Affordable Earthquake Safety Tips for Families and Business Owners

The nine earthquakes that rattled Dallas over the past 24 hours are reminders to take steps to protect your family, home, and business before an earthquake hits. FLASH offers the following easy and affordable earthquake safety tips for residents.

Look Up

1. Support ceiling fans and light pendants with bracing wire secured to a screw eye embedded at least an inch into the ceiling joist.

Look Around

Secure hanging artwork and heavy furniture with these easy and affordable steps.

2. Anchor the tops of bookcases, file cabinets and entertainment centers to one or more studs with flexible fasteners or metal “L” brackets and screws to prevent tipping.

3. Secure loose shelving by screwing into the cabinet or with earthquake putty placed at each corner bracket.

4. Secure china, collectibles, trophies, and other shelf items with earthquake putty.

5. Install a lip or blocking device to prevent books or other articles from falling off shelves.

6. Secure televisions, computers, and stereos with buckles and safety straps that also allow easy removal and relocation.

7. Install latches on cabinet doors to prevent them from opening and spilling out their contents.

8. Hang mirrors, pictures and plants using closed hooks to prevent items from falling.

9. Cover windows with approved shatter-resistant safety film to protect against broken glass.

Look Down

Prevent post-earthquake fires with these easy and affordable steps.

10. Ensure appliances have flexible gas or electrical connectors.

11. Strap the top and bottom of a water heater using heavy-gauge metal strapping secured to wall studs.

12. Locate your gas shutoff valve and ensure you know how to turn off the gas supply to your home with the use of a suitable wrench.

13. Relocate flammable liquids to a garage or outside storage location.

For additional resources for businesses visit the FLASH and FEMA QuakeSmart initiative. For more how-to earthquake information, residents can visit the Protect Your Home in a FLASH video library.