Power outages are a particular risk during extreme winter weather. Ice storms and blizzards often result in power outages that can last for several days. When it is cold outside and it is too dangerous to travel away from your home, it becomes increasingly important to make sure that you have heat inside. An automatic standby generator can keep key systems running to protect your home and your family. Enter now for your chance to win a Kohler automatic standby generator for your home!
Guest column: Upgraded Seismic Code Puts Safety First
By Leslie Chapman-Henderson, Special to The Commercial Appeal
Like it or not, Tennessee is earthquake country. After the West Coast, it is the region in the United States most at risk from earthquakes. An overwhelming majority of earthquake scientists, structural engineers and building code experts agree that the earthquake threat to the central United States is very real.
For that reason, we are deeply disappointed that the Shelby County Commission has delayed the implementation of seismic building code provisions. We are equally concerned that the Memphis City Council will follow suit. Read the full article in the Commercial Appeal
As “Black Friday” approaches, the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH)® suggests that this year, especially in the aftermath of Super Storm Sandy, families consider shopping for gifts of winter safety.
According to FLASH, there’s no better gift than one that offers your loved ones safety and protection and even has the potential to save their lives. For that reason FLASH, the country’s leading consumer advocate for strengthening homes and safeguarding families from natural and manmade disasters, developed a comprehensive list of winter-weather preparedness gift-giving ideas that can protect friends’ and families’ homes and ensure their safety.
Severe weather like Sandy has redefined this year’s must-have gift list. Traditional gifts and gadgets are taking a backseat to products like weather radios, power generators and simple things like hand-crank cell phone chargers.
Consider the following winter weather-smart gift ideas in the areas of Comfort and Security and Home Mitigation:
Comfort & Security
- AM/FM radios w/extra batteries
- Automobile power inverters
- Carbon monoxide detectors
- First-aid kits
- Hand-crank powered appliances such as cell phone chargers, power supplies, radios and weather radio
- LED flash lights w/extra batteries
- NOAA weather radios w/single-area message encoding (SAME)
- Power generators
- Portable gasoline-powered generators
- Permanent LP or natural gas standby generators
- Solar-powered backpack to charge laptops, tablets, music players and other portable devices
- Attic insulation
- Insulated doors
- Storm doors
- Portable generators
- Standby generators
- Gift certificates for professional home inspections
- Gift certificates for professional winterization services
- Insulation for hose bibs, exposed plumbing, pool equipment
- Weather stripping
- Replacement windows
For a complete list of tips on how to stay safe and comfortable during power outages, click here. For comprehensive disaster safety and home mitigation information on weather of all kinds, visit www.flash.org. And to enter the 2012 Great Hurricane Blowout Kohler/FLASH standby generator contest, visit www.greathurricaneblowout.org before November 30.
FLASH offers the following insurance, safety and clean up tips as families begin the process of cleaning up after flooding associated with Super Storm Sandy:
- Check for building stability before entry – sticking doors at the top may indicate a ceiling at risk of collapse
- Check foundation for any loose or missing blocks, bricks, stones or mortar.
- Assess stability of plaster and drywall – any bulging or swelling ceilings indicate damage that should be removed. Press upward on drywall ceilings. If nail heads appear, drywall will need to be re-nailed but can be saved
- If prevent warping of wooden doors, remove and disinfect all knobs and hardware, and lay flat and allow to air dry completely.
- Remove wet drywall and insulation well above the high water mark
- Take extensive photos and video for insurance claims. Only flood insurance typically covers damage from floods
- Remove damaged items from the home. If you need evidence of damage, save swatches (carpet, curtains, etc.) for your insurance adjuster
- Wash and disinfect all surfaces, including cupboard interiors with a solution of 1/2 cup bleach to 2 gallons of water. Remove sliding doors and windows before cleaning and disinfect the sliders and the tracks
- Clean and disinfect concrete surfaces using a mixture of TSP (trisodium phosphate) and water. Mix according to manufacturer’s directions and apply to entire surface
- Liquid cleaners can remove mud, silt and greasy deposits. Liquid detergents work on washable textiles. Use diluted bleach if item is safe for bleach
- The National Archives Website has information on how to clean up your family treasures. Although it may be difficult to throw certain items away, especially those with sentimental value, experts recommend that if you can’t clean it, you should dispose of it, especially if it has come into contact with water that may contain sewage.
Home air quality considerations and mold prevention
- Clean and disinfect heating, air conditioning and ventilation ducts before use to avoid spread of airborne germs and mold spores
- Use fans and sunlight to dry out interior spaces
- To avoid growth of microorganisms, household items should be dried completely before they are brought back in the house. Although the drying process can take a long time, homeowners should be patient because it is necessary to keep a home’s air quality healthy. Some household items may take longer than others to dry, such as upholstered furniture and carpets.
- Remove wallpaper and coverings that came into contact with floodwaters. Don’t repaint or repair until drying is complete and humidity levels in the home have dropped
For more information on protecting your home from flooding, visit www.flash.org.
With power outages persisting from superstorm Sandy and additional outages from this week’s Nor’easter, the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH) offers the following tips to keep families safe and comfortable:
- Include power outages in your family disaster plan, identifying alternate means of transportation and routes to home, school or work.
- Keep extra cash on hand since an extended power outage may prevent you from withdrawing money from automatic teller machines or banks.
- Keep your car fuel tank at least half-full, gas stations rely on electricity to power their pumps.
- During a power outage, resist the temptation to call 9-1-1 for information –that’s what your battery-powered radio is for.
- Turn off all lights but one, to alert you when power resumes.
- Check on elderly neighbors, friends, or relatives who may need assistance if weather is severe during the outage.
- Keep a supply of flashlights, batteries and a battery-powered radio on hand. Do not use candles as they pose a fire hazard.
- Put on layers of warm clothing. Never burn charcoal for heating or cooking indoors.
- If you are using a gas heater or fireplace to stay warm, be sure the area is properly ventilated.
- Go a designated public shelter if your home loses power or heat during periods of extreme cold. Text SHELTER + your ZIP code to 43362 (4FEMA) to find the nearest shelter in your area (example: shelter 12345)
- Keep a supply of non-perishable foods, medicine, baby supplies, and pet food as appropriate on hand. Also be sure to have at least one gallon of water per person per day on hand.
- Avoid opening the fridge or freezer. Food should be safe as long as the outage lasts no more than four hours.
- Have one or more coolers for cold food storage in case power outage is prolonged. Perishable foods should not be stored for more than two hours above 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
- If you eat food that was refrigerated or frozen, check it carefully for signs of spoilage.
- Do not run a generator inside a home or garage. Use gas-powered generators only in well-ventilated areas.
- Connect only individual appliances to portable generators.
- 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.
When Power Returns
- 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.
- When power is restored, wait a few minutes before turning on major appliances to help eliminate further problems caused by a sharp increase in demand.
For more information on staying safe in extreme cold weather events, visit www.flash.org.
Max Mayfield, former Director of the National Hurricane Center, today concludes our Hurricane Andrew: Twenty Years, Twenty Stories blog series. He adds his memories to the unique slate of voices recalling the storm that changed the face of Miami and served as the impetus for the modern disaster safety movement. We hope you enjoyed the series and encourage you to continue to visit as we add stories and information to help you strengthen your home and safeguard your family against disasters.
Like many South Florida residents, I have some pretty vivid memories from Hurricane Andrew. I’ll share my thoughts focused on South Florida from my perspective as one of the Hurricane Specialists at the National Hurricane Center (NHC) that was located in Coral Gables on U.S. 1 across from the University of Miami during 1992 and also as someone whose family and home went through the northern eyewall of Andrew.
Meteorologists will remember Andrew as one of only three Category 5 hurricanes to strike the mainland United States. Direct deaths (from the actual hazards of the hurricane) totaled 26 including three in the Bahamas, 15 in Florida and eight in Louisiana. Dozens more indirect deaths occurred, many during the recovery period. Andrew’s total damage estimate of $26.5 billion (1992 dollars) made it the most expensive natural disaster in U.S. history up to that time.
I remember receiving calls at NHC from the media during the first part of August asking about the absence of tropical storms and hurricanes. A rather typical looking tropical wave crossed the west coast of Africa on August 14th. Based on satellite imagery, I wrote the first official NHC advisory on what eventually became Andrew during the night of August 16th. It became a tropical storm on the 17th and was steered westward and northwestward over the next few days. As the upper-level pattern became more favorable for strengthening, Andrew became a hurricane on August 22nd while centered about 600 miles to the east of the Bahamas. This was only two days before making landfall in South Florida. Andrew was steered nearly due westward for the next few days and, after passing through the Bahamas, made landfall (defined as the center of the eye initially moving over land) in Florida first over Elliott Key at 4:40 am followed by landfall on the mainland near Fender Point (about 9 miles east-northeast of Homestead) at 5:05 am on Monday August 24th.
Dr. Bob Sheets was the NHC Director during Andrew and, in my opinion, did an unflappable job guiding the NHC and communicating with emergency managers and the media. Bob’s efforts saved lives. I worked the evening shift (4:00 pm to midnight) at the NHC the week before Andrew struck Florida. I didn’t want to chance not being able to get to work on Monday due to debris blocking roads, so I took my sleeping bag into the office and planned to spend Sunday night at NHC after getting off shift. I found a room near to where the HAM radio operators were set up and tried to rest a little. Just as I lay down, a window blew out in the office next door (even with our hurricane shutters in place). I remember thinking that wasn’t supposed to happen, and I gave up on trying to sleep.
At 4:54 am, we heard a loud noise as we lost our radar imagery. The winds had become so strong that the radar dish tumbled down from its mount on the roof. Our two large satellite antennas behind the NHC were shredded. Fortunately, our backup power continued to function and we had backups for both the radar and satellite imagery. However, the air conditioning units on top of the building were damaged which meant that it got hot inside the NHC given all the computers and media lights.
We could see that there was considerable damage at and around the NHC. We also knew that the eyewall of Andrew where the strongest winds occurred passed to the south of the NHC where, we estimated, about half of the staff of the NHC and co-located Miami Weather Forecast Office (WFO) had homes and families. We knew that some people had likely died in this hurricane. NHC and Miami WFO forecasters had to stay focused on the job at hand because Andrew was still a major hurricane and headed toward Louisiana. NHC forecasters posted a Hurricane Watch for portions of the northern Gulf coast including Louisiana at 9:00 am on the Monday morning that Andrew struck South Florida followed by a hurricane warning for Louisiana later that afternoon.
Like many colleagues, I was unable to contact my family at home because the power and telephone lines were out. Later that day, a friend drove by my home and called in on her car phone. I asked how my family was and I was so relieved and thankful when she said “they were all outside and looked like they were fine.” I asked how my house looked and she responded something like “well, it is not too bad” but I couldn’t help but hear concern in her voice. And then I asked how my trees looked and she responded “What trees?” I knew I had a problem. I finally made it home that Monday evening before sunset by driving slowly and with difficulty around debris and large highway signs that were downed on U.S. 1 and SR 874 and around downed power lines as I got closer to my neighborhood. Many street signs were down and I honestly didn’t know exactly where I was until I saw some stunned neighbors and asked them where my house was. My shutters had withstood the winds of Andrew but I lost most of my roof shingles and tar paper on the east side of my house. I asked my kids to go get a ladder so that I could get up on the roof and get an idea of the damage before it got dark. My kids all just smiled and one of them said “Dad, you don’t need a ladder.” They took me around to the side of the house where they walked me up the trunk of a large tree that had fallen on my house from a neighbor’s yard.
I can’t even begin to complain about the damage to my house in Kendall given how much worse it was to the south of us. Our home was near the outer edge of Andrew’s northern eyewall. The outer edge was not nearly as bad as the inner edge. Still, we finally moved into a mobile home at the urging of our insurance adjuster and didn’t move back into our repaired home until July 1993. I remember one of the NHC satellite meteorologists who used to have a house in Country Walk. He told us that he was “homeless” after losing his house. Many people at the NHC would spend months getting their home repaired or rebuilt.
Andrew will be remembered as an intense Category 5 hurricane. But it is important to understand that it was a small Category 5 hurricane. The core of Andrew with its strongest winds struck the southern part of Miami-Dade County. This core did not directly strike Miami Beach, downtown Miami, the Port of Miami, Miami International Airport, or the Brickell financial district. A track shifted only slightly to the north by 15 to 20 miles would most assuredly have caused even greater damage. And because Andrew was so small, the storm surge was limited in areal extent. The maximum value of storm tide (the sum of storm surge plus astronomical tide) in Andrew was 16.9 feet measured at the Burger King International Headquarters. If Andrew had been a larger hurricane, both the areal coverage of wind and storm surge damage would have been greater. The Great Miami Hurricane of 1926, the Lake Okeechobee Hurricane of 1928, and the South Florida Hurricane of 1947 were all Category 4 hurricanes but were substantially larger than Andrew. I don’t want to do or say anything to minimize the unacceptable loss of life and tremendous damage caused by Andrew, but as bad as Andrew was, I can assure you that it was not “The Big One.”
Brian Mackey, Scientist
WeatherPredict Consulting, Inc.
Hurricane Andrew struck South Florida on what was to be the first day of my senior year of high school in 1992. I was living in Palm Beach County at the time, and although the core of the storm stayed well south of my location, it was close enough to give us all quite a scare. Looking back on the event 20 years later, I now realize how unprepared we all were that day for a category 5 hurricane. It was a monster, and we did not truly understand its severity until news helicopters discovered the considerable devastation while flying over southern Dade County. I remember the droves of volunteers steaming into the area, hardly knowing where they were at, as street signs were missing and stop lights were out. The zoos and parks were not immune to the destruction as well, and I recall helping to clean up Monkey Jungle one weekend as part of a school trip. This storm was a prime example of the awesome power of hurricanes.
Prior to Andrew, I already knew that I wanted to major in meteorology at the university level. This event certainty did not take away from this desire, and in fact, it only strengthened my interest and determination to study tropical cyclones. I remain optimistic that the state of the science will progress further so that we can more clearly understand and model intensity changes and provide even better short-term warnings with the necessary lead time.
Dr. Eric Williford: Senior Scientist,
Head of Operational Forecasting, WeatherPredict Consulting, Inc.
During Andrew, I was in the midst of a Ph.D. program at Florida State University with Dr. T. N. Krishnamurti and was focusing on extra-tropical cyclone development, especially in the Gulf of Mexico. While Andrew wasn’t the determining factor in why I became interested in tropical meteorology, it did surprise me and others in our lab. How did a small tropical system, nearly dissipating in the open Atlantic, become such a tenacious powerhouse and impact Florida and Louisiana so significantly? Andrew did entice me to get more involved in tropical modeling and prediction, especially with regard to how to improve forecasting skills. I worked on numerical modeling and real-time prediction efforts and switched to tropical cyclone prediction for my dissertation topic. From these and other studies, our research group was approached by RenaissanceRe while involved with a study at Risk Prediction Initiative in Bermuda. In collaboration with science leaders at RenaissanceRe, we created a state-of-the-art real-time forecasting platform via a five year research grant between RenaissanceRe and Dr. Krishnamurti’s lab at Florida State.
From these efforts, we developed the Superensemble forecasting technology to improve forecasting skill. This ultimately led to the start of Weather Predict (and eventually, WeatherPredict Consulting Inc., a U.S. affiliate of Renaissance Re Holdings, Ltd.) We today still strive to improve our understanding of risk, including understanding tropical cyclone impacts and increasing forecasting skill, especially with the challenging intensity forecasts. For the past 10 seasons, WPC has provided our real-time North Atlantic, North Eastern Pacific, and North Central Pacific tropical cyclone forecasts to NHC/NOAA to support their forecasting efforts, and we are proud to contribute to their mission of protecting life and property for our country.
President, WeatherPredict Consulting Inc.
When you look at the science of natural catastrophe risk, Hurricane Andrew in many ways was pivotal in focusing scientists, engineers and risk managers towards gaining a better physical understanding of this risk. When I look back, it’s interesting how much our ability to characterize the potential impacts of extreme weather events has matured. Andrew’s destruction motivated this – it affected my own professional concentrations and at WeatherPredict, many of our scientists can also point to the influence of the Andrew catastrophe on their careers.
What is commonplace today could not even be considered at the time of Andrew. Our scientists now have the ability to investigate tropical cyclones through the use of numerical weather prediction models that capture the physics of these natural systems as they traverse across the ocean and make landfall on our coastlines – and they can do this a million times over to explore the complete distribution of outcomes possible.
The experience of Andrew motivated the development of stronger building codes in Florida, and indeed, Florida has become a proving ground for what stronger building codes could achieve. Through the experience and leadership of Miami-Dade County in establishing some of the best building codes for severe winds, and the subsequent success of those building codes in the Florida hurricanes of 2004 and 2005, we now have the evidence in real savings that can motivate other states to follow suit. Going forward from here, the focus needs to be on implementation and enforcement of those strong codes.
And the science of building stronger has been taken even further in recent years. There are now several full-scale testing laboratories in the Southeast that can test actual buildings in the realistic conditions of hurricane winds and rain. It started with the establishment of the RenaissanceRe Wall of Wind at Florida International University, but has perhaps reached its full potential with the Research Center of the Institute for Business and Home Safety as well as a new Wall of Wind at Florida International University. We don’t need to wait for another Andrew to devastate a city to understand what can be improved in our building stock – we are using these full scale testing laboratories to identify the best building and mitigation practices going forward. Through numerical simulation and physical testing laboratories, a closer integration of meteorology and wind-engineering has increased our understanding of the risk of hurricane catastrophes. Because the robust foundation now exists, the effects of climate change can be explored.
In my own career, first as a catastrophe risk consultant, then providing insurance coverage for properties at risk, and now leading an elite team of scientists, a significant evolution has been the integration of the science into business decisions. More than ever before, the statistics of hurricane risk are communicated directly to corporate boards. Because this risk is better quantified, managers and property owners are now making investments towards resilience in the face of this continuing threat to our coastal states. At WeatherPredict we are acutely aware of the positive impacts that natural catastrophe science can have on making communities more resilient. We recognize the unique privilege we have in working on problems that affect so many people and of course this drives our passion for connecting our capabilities to real world decisions.
After an intermission necessitated by Hurricanes Isaac, Leslie and Michael, today, we resume our Hurricane Andrew series with a post from Steve Weinstein, SVP RenaissanceRe Holdings Ltd. and Chairman, RenaissanceRe Risk Sciences Foundation. Mr. Weinstein shares how Andrew changed everything from building codes to risk management to insurance claims handling and led to the creation of RenaissaneRe a business that has a mission to “better serve clients and at-risk communities.”
When Hurricane Andrew made landfall in 1992, our company, RenaissanceRe Holdings Ltd., did not yet exist. Nor did many of the large, technically sound, publicly traded market participants we compete with today. Management teams in our industry tended to believe that even extreme natural catastrophes were unlikely to give rise to more than $2 billion or so of insured losses; and accordingly, since the exposures were not deemed to be material, boards of directors and other key stakeholders of primary insurers and ultimate insureds devoted relatively little time to oversight of natural catastrophe risk. The science of catastrophe modeling was in its infancy, and the art of deploying models for risk management was nascent.
Andrew, and twenty subsequent years of consistent innovation, changed all that.
By the summer of 1993, RenaissanceRe was in business, with a mission to deploy recent innovations in portfolio optimization, catastrophe modeling, dynamic risk management and other emergent sciences to better serve clients and at-risk communities. In particular, we believed from our outset that a commitment to developing and utilizing expertise in risk modeling and analysis would help us both to underwrite risk effectively and offer fairly priced, consistent capacity for some of the world’s most perilous regions, including the US Southeast. We were quickly joined by numerous competitors, some well-established firms, and by many new entrants, principally in the growing reinsurance market hub of Bermuda.
After the 9/11 tragedy and the large storms of 2004/2005, including Hurricane Katrina, new waves of capital and new competitors emerged to support catastrophe-exposed and other risks. Many, if not all, of these competitors have embraced stochastic modeling, hazard-oriented risk analysis, and portfolio management techniques to enhance risk management and client service. Successful modeling firms, university and government projects, and a generation of professionals have fostered accelerating innovation and enhancement of catastrophe modeling and risk perception.
But it is the depth of commitment to catastrophe risk analysis and to fostering a companywide risk management culture at RenaissanceRe that we believe is unique; it is both deep and broad across our organization. Dedicated efforts to increase awareness about risk mitigation and encourage resiliency through the widespread adoption of effective mitigation strategies have been key components of RenaissanceRe research initiatives from our outset. Among our other initiatives, in 2004 we partnered with the International Hurricane Research Center at Florida International University – not far from where Andrew made landfall – to develop a revolutionary testing facility: the RenaissanceRe Wall of Wind. Fully operational since 2007, the RenaissanceRe Wall of Wind generates 125 mph winds and associated rain to which full-scale structures can be subjected, and has served as a model for other important industry-supported initiatives.
In 2008, in partnership with FLASH®, State Farm® and Simpson Strong-Tie, we launched our award-winning attraction at INNOVENTIONS at Epcot® at the Walt Disney World® Resort. Since its opening, “StormStruck: The Tale of Two Homes™”, an interactive exhibit combining “edutainment” with the exhilaration of experiencing what it might feel like to be in a severe storm, has communicated to millions of attendees cost-effective steps they might take to make their homes more resilient to windstorms.
Very few events can truly be called “game changers.” But even with two decades of hindsight, Hurricane Andrew was indeed just that. From building codes to modeling, from risk management to reinsurance, from construction to claims handling, no field of endeavor touched by Andrew was unchanged by it. At RenaissanceRe, as we plan for our next two decades, we remain more committed than ever to working with clients, at-risk communities, policy-makers, academic experts and other interested parties to further develop ever more effective approaches to managing the increasing risks of hurricanes and other natural catastrophes.