Lifesaving Mudslide Safety Tips from FLASH

The mudslide that impacted Snohomish County, WA this weekend has claimed at least 16 lives, destroyed homes, and countless others are still missing. With the potential threat of another mudslide affecting the area and spring showers around the corner, here are some lifesaving safety tips to protect your home and family from mudslides.

  1. Know your mudslide risk. Create a family disaster plan that includes a plan for evacuation and a 72-hour emergency kit.
  2. Heed evacuation warnings by officials. Know in advance who will give the official evacuation orders.
  3. The elderly, people with disabilities, those dependent on medical equipment or anyone else who would need help to evacuate should register with local officials in advance.
  4. Those with pets should identify pet-friendly options ahead of time.
  5. Mudflows are not covered by a standard home insurance; however they are covered by flood insurance. A mudflow is the movement of water and mud that flows across normally dry land.   A mudslide or landslide, which can result from a collapsed hillside, happens when earth and rock travel downhill. Only mudflows, not mudslides or landslides, are covered by flood insurance. Click here for more information from the National Flood Insurance Program.
  6. Be aware of any sudden increase or decrease in water flow and notice whether the water changes from clear to muddy. These changes may mean there is debris flow activity upstream so be prepared to move quickly.
  7. Stay alert when conditions are ripe for mudslides especially when driving. Watch the road for collapsed pavement, mud, and other indications of a possible debris flow.
  8. Listen for sounds that indicate moving debris, such as trees cracking.
  9. After the mudslide, stay away from the affected areas and watch for flooding that can happen after a mudslide event.

Floods Happen Anytime, Everywhere: Protect Your Home and Finances

By Terry Sheridan, FLASH Blogger

Just one inch of water in a 2,000-square-foot home can cause $21,000 in damage.

That startling fact, courtesy of the National Flood Insurance Program is something to keep in mind about the trauma of flood damage and loss in Boulder, Colo. Many residents there had much more than an inch of water. One anonymous posting on the city’s flood website reported that 7.5 feet of water poured into the finished basement. Everything was lost, the resident said.

Of course, not everyone had 90 inches of water lapping at the basement walls. A homeowner might have had an inch of water while a neighbor had several feet. Some with crawl spaces had little or no water while others with crawl spaces are still pumping out. Others saw water leak in from the roof, too.

It’s seems like a head-scratcher but there’s some logic to it. The position of homes, how and where storm drains back up, positioning and diameter of gutters and downspouts, types of foundation waterproofing, and whether there are flood vents in basements and crawl spaces are just some factors that affect a flood’s impact.

Neighbors Michael Leccese and John Pollak learned firsthand about the vagaries of nature’s impact.

Leccese’s home has a crawl space about three feet below the ground floor. A tiny furnace room sits deeper at what would be basement level. The crawl space remained dry but about an inch of water seeped into the furnace room, which took Leccese an hour to remove with a wet vacuum.

Pollak had only a small amount of water in his crawl space. But the basement of his rental triplex took in more than two feet of diluted sewage. He gutted the basement, removing drywall, carpeting and anything else 2.5 feet above the floor. When the doors kept leaking, he realized that their hollow cores acted like straws that couldn’t contain all of the water they had absorbed. So the doors were removed, too.

Here’s what Leccese and Pollak would like you to know from their experience:

  • Install concrete flooring in the basement instead of wall-to-wall carpeting.
  • Inspect the roof regularly.
  • Get a sump pump. If you’ve already got one, service it and check it during storms or flood alerts.
  • Consider flood insurance. Don’t assume you’re OK because flood maps say you’re not in the flood zone. Some flooding was the result of rising water tables, rivers and creeks that found new courses, debris that created dams, overflowing irrigation ditches, mudslides and drain overflows.
  • Check the waterproofing of your home’s foundation.
  • Install larger diameter downspouts and gutters, and extend the downspouts farther away from the house.
  • Know what your homeowners insurance covers. Will damage from backed-up drains be covered or will your insurer refuse because it’s a flood?
  • Consider installing drywall several inches above the floor and covering the gap with base trim. That way, the drywall won’t start slurping up the water until you’ve got several inches.

Learn more about flood protection at www.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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Remembering the 9.0M Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami

It’s been three years since the 9.0M Tohoku earthquake and tsunami claimed more than 15,000 lives.  In fact, more than 260,000 people are still living in temporary housing.  In recognition of this historic catastrophe, here are our tsunami tips for residents along at-risk coastlines in the Pacific, Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico.

1. Listen to official emergency management or law enforcement instructions on radio and television stations. Monitor NOAA weather radio with a tone-alert feature. The tone-alert feature will warn you of potential danger even if you are not listening to local radio and television stations.

2. Be on guard for strong earthquakes. Earthquakes can trigger a tsunami. Do not stay in low-lying coastal areas after a strong earthquake has been felt. Tsunamis can impact every coastline in the Pacific, Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico.

3. When there is little time, consider vertical evacuation. The upper stories of tall, multi-storied, concrete buildings like hotels can provide refuge if there is no time to quickly move inland or to higher ground.

4. Never go down to the beach to watch for tsunamis. If you can see the wave you are too close to escape it – tsunamis move much faster than a person can run.

5. Remember a tsunami is a series of waves and the first wave may not be the largest wave. The danger can last for several hours after the arrival of the first wave.

6. Develop a family emergency plan. Have a family meeting place that is an elevated inland location. Ask a relative or friend outside your community to be the emergency contact.

7. If you are visiting an area at-risk for tsunamis, check with the hotel, motel or campground operator for tsunami evacuation information and how you would be warned. Know designated emergency escape routes before a warning is issued.

For more information on how to protect your home and family from earthquakes and tsunamis visit http://www.flash.org.

When the twister comes, where will you be that’s safe?

By: Terry Sheridan, FLASH Blogger

Ricky Knox knew the EF-5 tornado was coming even before he saw it. Five minutes later, it hit his community near Huntsville, Ala.

“My son and I were talking and looking out the back door. I asked him to be quiet a minute and I could hear that thing – just like a train – coming,” he says.

Knox, his wife, son and mother climbed down into the tornado shelter that had been installed below the garage floor just three weeks before. Huddled down, knees bumped up to the next person’s feet, they waited.

“I knew we were in for it when my ears popped,” Knox says. “Not like when you’re on a plane but like snapping your fingers or breaking sticks next to your ears.” The family could hear the garage and house coming apart above them.

When they emerged 30 minutes later, their home was demolished and someone’s four-ton air-conditioner had blown into what had been the kitchen.

But the Knox family was unhurt and safe.

Knox offers these suggestions in considering a shelter:

  • Certified shelters and safe rooms can be built above- or below ground so if you have elderly family members or friends who may have difficulty entering a below-ground shelter, convert a bigger closet into a “safe room.”
  • Be sure you have rain ponchos because tornadoes often bring torrential downpours and you very likely won’t have a roof over your head when you leave the shelter.
  • Register with local emergency officials and alert neighbors so they know you’ll be in the shelter.
  • Take a cell phone with you but make sure you’ve got reception. Knox climbed down into his shelter, shut the overhead door and tested his phone. And it did work.
  • Have battery-powered lights and water in the shelter.
  • Do a practice run with your family.

Dr. Ernst Kiesling, an engineer and executive director of the National Storm Shelter Association (NSSA), cautions that many people don’t understand that storm shelters must meet more rigorous building standards than a home because of wind pressures and debris impact.

Shelters designed to NSSA standards can endure wind pressures six or seven times greater than a typical building, Kiesling says. Building codes generally require that a non-shelter building withstand 90 to 100 mph winds. Shelters are designed to take 250 mph winds – the worst-case scenario.

Above- and below-ground shelters vary in size, can be steel or concrete, and costs range from about $3,000 to $8,000. (Knox’s shelter cost $6,500.) Your contractor may need to obtain a building permit prior to installing the shelter.

Sound complicated? It is. That’s why you should consult with an engineer who understands shelter requirements, and a contractor who builds to NSSA standards.

Find more shelter information at www.nssa.cc and http://www.flash.org/peril_tornadoes.php.

Editor’s Note:  FLASH President & CEO Leslie Chapman-Henderson is speaking at the National Tornado Summit on Monday, February 10.  To learn more, visit tornaodsummit.org. 

5.1 Magnitude Earthquake Off the Coast of Florida Reminds Us to Be QuakeSmart

Make it Your Business to Be QuakeSmart

By Terry Sheridan, FLASH Blogger

This is the second of two blog posts marking the 20th anniversary of the 6.7-magnitude Northridge earthquake that devastated a four-county area of Southern California in the early hours of Jan. 17, 1994, killing 60 people, injuring 7,000 and damaging 40,000 buildings, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Veterinarian Ayman Ibrahim’s one experience with an earthquake a few years ago was enough to convince him that he needs to prepare his Mission Animal Hospital in Palmdale, California for a far worse experience.

He’s anchoring animal cages and cabinets to the walls, converting shelving units to cabinets so that they can be anchored, and considering buying a generator for the 3,000-square-foot space. Business records are backed up on computers and also kept on paper.

Ibrahim also is designating one cabinet for a week’s supply of emergency food, water, first-aid items and medications. “I figure I’ll be the one to stay full-time in the building after an earthquake,” he says.

By facing what needs to be done, Ibrahim already is a few steps ahead.

“Owners may not face the business continuity aspects they have to deal with,” says Mark Benthien, global coordinator of Great ShakeOut drills. He’s also director of education and outreach for the Southern California Earthquake Center and executive director of the Earthquake Country Alliance at the University of Southern California-Dornsife.

“Their employees may be more concerned about their homes or even move away, water and utilities are out and the business can’t operate, and supplies and products can’t be delivered,” he says.

Follow these steps to safeguard your business.

  • Identify your risk: Is your business located in an earthquake hazard area? Are your vendors and suppliers?
  • Determine your structural and non-structural risks: Does your building meet the latest building codes? Non-structural items such as office furniture and equipment should be anchored or braced. Don’t forget to safeguard equipment that could cause fires, and windows and ceiling fixtures.
  • Make a plan: Determine how you’ll protect each and every item. Watch this short earthquake video for an idea of what to do. Inventory, accounts, payroll and other records will need protection, too.
  • Prepare disaster supply kits: Emergency services will be directed to schools and hospitals, so you may be on your own for a few days. Have a three-day supply of non-perishable food and water, plus sanitation needs, for each person.

Keep in mind that the earthquake mantra is “drop, cover and hold on.” You and your employees should drop close to the floor, find a sturdy object to hide under and hang on. That’s why it’s so important to anchor heavy objects that could topple onto you and your employees.

Find more information at:

www.flash.org/quakesmart

http://flash.org/peril_earthquake.php and

http://www.earthquakecountry.org/roots/7StepsBusiness2008.pdf

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.

Make Your Home QuakeSmart

Look up, Look around, Look down: Make your home QuakeSmart

By Terry Sheridan, FLASH Blogger

This is the first of two blog posts marking the 20th anniversary of the 6.7-magnitude Northridge earthquake that devastated a four-county area of Southern California in the early hours of Jan. 17, 1994, killing 60 people, injuring 7,000 and damaging 40,000 buildings, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Like most college students at 4:30 in the morning, Mark Benthien was fast asleep in his UCLA dorm room when the Northridge quake hit. The shaking ground tumbled bikes, a TV, books and odds and ends to the floor.

He wasn’t hurt. But others died in ways that likely could have been prevented with a few safeguards. News accounts describe a man who died from head injuries sustained when a microwave oven crashed into him in his mobile home. Two people died when hundreds of pounds of books, model trains and other collectibles crushed and suffocated them.

Benthien, now an earthquake expert who coordinates Great ShakeOut drills and directs education and outreach for the Southern California Earthquake Center at the University of Southern California-Dornsife, says complacency about earthquake risks can be your biggest foe.

“We diminish what we’re told about risk,” he says. “And certainly that’s true about earthquakes because the larger ones happen less often and people feel smaller earthquakes on a somewhat regular basis.”

Getting too comfortable with quakes that do little or no damage to your home might lead you to assume your house is earthquake-proof, he says. And then the big one comes along.

Benthien has spent thousands of dollars on shoring up the 1,000-square-foot home that he bought in 2007. Built in 1926, the house and surrounding homes were damaged in the Northridge quake — including toppled brick chimneys that couldn’t withstand the sideways motion from the shake.

Retrofitting the foundation cost $6,000, and included bracing and bolting the “cripple wall” between the foundation and first-floor joists. A cripple wall carries the weight of the house and creates a crawl space. If it isn’t braced to withstand horizontal movement, it can collapse – and so can your house.

Before the ground shakes again, here’s what you can do to protect your home.

  • Look up:  Overhead objects like ceiling fans and chandeliers should be bolted to ceiling joists or beams with wire cable that has slack to allow sideways movement.
  • Look around: Objects hung on walls, heavy furniture, shelved items, electronics and cabinet doors can be fastened or held down with a variety of hooks and straps screwed into studs, Velcro or museum putty, and latches to keep items from becoming airborne, falling over or opening.
  • Look down: Secure appliances and protect water connections and gas lines. Consider installing an automatic gas shut-off valve outside.
  • Prepare a disaster survival kit:  Have enough food and water to last each person for three days. Don’t forget medications, pet needs, cash, important papers, keys.
  • Contact your insurance company or agent and consider buying earthquake insurance today.
  • Consider an expert:  Have an engineer examine your home’s structure to make sure your home is properly braced and secured to the foundation.

Special Note:   In recognition of this historic event, experts, policymakers and thought leaders from across the country will gather for the Northridge 20 Symposium January 16 – 17 in Los Angeles to discuss lessons learned and best practices, share new advances in technology and engineering, and consider innovative policies and programs to reduce earthquake risk.

Find out more at these websites:

FLASH DIY Mitigation Video – Earthquake

http://www.flash.org/peril_earthquake.php

www.flash.org/quakesmart 

www.earthquakecountry.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

6 Days, 6 Ways To Protect Your Home and Family This Winter

With extreme cold weather affecting families from coast to coast and tomorrow marking the first official day of winter, we have put together six ways you can protect your home and family from winter weather conditions.

Day 1:  Enter to win a Kohler Generator. A home generator will keep systems running to protect your home and family. Generators:

  • Provide heat to keep you warm and comfortable
  • Prevent  pipes from freezing and causing water damage
  • Keep communications systems running so you can stay informed of weather and travel conditions for friends and family
  • Ensure that water removal pumps or sump pumps are protecting the basement from water damage as snow begins to melt
  • Preserve food and fresh water for the family
  • Support well pumps for running water/toilet flushing

Day 2:  Prevent Frozen Pipes by Foam, Dome or Drip. For as little as $1 per 6’ of insulation, you can stop pipes from freezing and save energy, money and frustration. When water freezes in a pipe, it expands and can exert pressure of up to 2,000 pounds per square inch – enough to rupture almost any pipe filled with water. When a pipe bursts, it can spill several hundred gallons of water per hour, resulting in the second most common cause of home insurance claims in America. 

Day 3: 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. Don’t forget about holes in the attic, basement and crawlspaces. The easiest place to insulate that will generate the biggest results is your attic. The US Environmental Protection Agency suggests at least 12 to 15 inches of insulation on the floor of your attic.

Day 4: Check your portable heaters and fireplaces. Half of all fire-related deaths are caused by items placed too closely to heat sources. Make sure that your heater is tested and labeled by a nationally recognized testing company, such as Underwriter’s Laboratories. Keep portable heaters at least three feet away from drapes, furniture or other flammable materials. Place the heater on a level surface away from areas it can be bumped or knocked over. Clear the area around the hearth of debris, decorations and flammable materials. Provide proper venting systems for all heating equipment. Make sure all vent pipes extend at least three feet above the roof.

Day 5: Make your car winter safe. Create a car emergency kit with flashlights, a distress flag, blankets, extra food and water. Keep it there throughout the season.

Day 6: Prevent Ice Dams. Ice dams are formed when air in the attic is warm enough to cause snow and ice on the roof to thaw and refreeze repeatedly. Pools of water then become trapped under layers of ice that seep under your roof covering (tiles or shingles) into the attic. Keep the warm air downstairs where it belongs with sufficient insulation on the floor of the attic. Consider using a dehumidifier to control water vapor. Seal all openings that would allow vapor to rise into the attic; including holes created from installing light fixtures, ceiling fans or disco balls. Provide attic ventilation to replace warm air in the attic with cold outside air. Consult a professional for the best way to avoid ice dams and water damage in your home. Keep gutters and downspouts clear to allow melted snow and ice to flow away from your home.