Floods Happen Anytime, Everywhere: Protect Your Home and Finances

By Terry Sheridan, FLASH Consumer 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.

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 Consumer 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:


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


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 Consumer 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




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

12 Days of Winter Safety

With extreme winter weather conditions persisting across the country, FLASH today released 12 Days of Winter Safety tips and resources as a part of the Great Winter Weather Party digital media campaign launched in 2011. This comprehensive and cost-effective list is aimed at arming families with the necessary information and tools to winterize their home and better protect families from extreme cold and winter storms.

1st day of Winter Safety:  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

2nd Day of Winter Safety: Purchase a weather alerting device. Get warnings on severe weather in your area by downloading the FLASH Weather Alerts App for $7.99 or paying an average of $44 for a NOAA Weather Radio.

3rd Day of Winter Safety:  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.

4th Day of Winter Safety: 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.

5th Day of Winter Safety:  Winterize your backyard. Move outdoor furniture, grills, toys, plants and other items to a covered, protected space to prolong the life of these items and make it easier to clear snow and ice from decks after a storm. Clean leaves from gutters. For as little as $5 you can install gutter downspout extensions a minimum of four feet from the house.

6th Day of Winter Safety: Check your portable heaters. 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.

7th Day of Winter Safety: 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.

8th Day of Winter Safety: Clean and check your fireplace. 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.

9th Day of Winter Safety: Check your furnace. Be sure all furnace controls and emergency shutoffs are in proper working condition. Have a licensed professional inspect the walls and ceiling near the furnace and along the chimney line and make any necessary repairs.  If the wall is hot or discolored, additional pipe insulation or clearance may be required. Check the flue pipe and pipe seams to make sure they are well supported, and free of holes and cracks. Soot along or around seams may be an indicator of a leak. Keep trash and other combustibles away from the heating system.

10th Day of Winter SafetyPrevent fires from outside of your fireplace.  Be sure to stack firewood stored outside at least 30 feet away from your home. Keep your roof clear of potential fire starters like leaves, pine needles and other debris. Remove branches hanging above the chimney, flues or vents. For as little as $25 you can cover all vent openings to the attic, eaves/soffits, foundation, etc. with a corrosion-resistant non-combustible 1/4 inch or smaller wire mesh or screen that prevents firebrands from entering the home.

11th Day of Winter Safety: Prepare the outside of your home before and after winter storms. For as little as $5, you can keep your family and friends safe from icy walkways. Before the storm approaches, lay down a layer of deicing sand/salt to minimize the buildup of ice during the storm.  After the storm, lay down layers of deicing sand/salt to melt the snow and ice. Once it begins to melt you can chip away at the layers with a snow shovel to move it off steps and walkways.

12th Day of Winter Safety: 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.


7 Car Safety Tips for Winter

With the recent story of one family’s survival in their car after being trapped in sub-zero temperatures in the Nevada mountains, FLASH was inspired to share these seven tips to keep you safe, warm and alert if you are trapped in a car due to severe winter weather or traffic delays.

1. Prepare a special emergency kit for your car and keep it there throughout the season.  Your winter weather car-kit should include:

  • A distress flag
  • Blankets
  • Extra food and water
  • Flashlights and batteries

2. Check your tires for air and wear. Be sure to keep tow and tire chains in your trunk as well.

3. If visibility is impaired, pull off the highway. Turn on hazard lights and hang a distress flag from the radio antenna or window.

4. Remain in your vehicle where rescuers are most likely to find you. Do not set out on foot unless you can see a building close by where you know you can take shelter. Be careful; distances are distorted by blowing snow. A building may seem close but be too far to walk to in deep snow.

5. If stranded, run the engine and heater about 10 minutes each hour to keep warm. When the engine is running, open a downwind window slightly for ventilation and periodically clear snow from the exhaust pipe. This will protect you from possible carbon monoxide poisoning.

6. Be careful not to waste battery power. Balance electrical energy needs – the use of lights, heat, and radio – with supply.

7. In extreme cold, use road maps, seat covers, and floor mats for insulation. Huddle with passengers and use your coat for a blanket.

For more information, tips and resources for winter safety visit www.flash.org or  www.greatwinterweatherparty.org.

19 Tips For Extreme Cold Power Outage Safety

In 2012 extreme cold and winter storms resulted in 36 deaths. As temperatures continue to drop, and snow and ice threaten more than 50 million people across multiple states, power outages could affect residents over the next few days. The nonprofit Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH) offers the following tips to keep families safe and comfortable:

Family Safety

1. Include power outages in your family disaster plan, identifying alternate means of transportation and routes to home, school or work.

2. Keep extra cash on hand since an extended power outage may prevent you from withdrawing money from automatic teller machines or banks.

3. Keep your car fuel tank at least half-full, gas stations rely on electricity to power their pumps.

4. During a power outage, resist the temptation to call 9-1-1 for information–that’s what your battery-powered radio is for.

5. Turn off all lights but one, to alert you when power resumes.

6. Check on elderly neighbors, friends, or relatives who may need assistance if weather is severe during the outage.

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

Keeping Warm

8. Put on layers of warm clothing. Never burn charcoal for heating or cooking indoors.

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

10. Go to 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)


11. Keep a supply of non-perishable foods, medicine, baby supplies, and pet food as appropriate on hand. Be sure to have at least one gallon of water per person per day on hand.

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

13. 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.

14. If you eat food that was refrigerated or frozen, check it carefully for signs of spoilage.


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

16. Connect only individual appliances to portable generators.

17. 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

18. 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.

19. 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 protecting your home from extreme cold conditions, visit www.flash.org or www.greatwinterweatherparty.org.


Prepare First – and Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow

By Terry Sheridan, FLASH Consumer Blogger


Arcing power lines that set houses ablaze.  Six-foot snow drifts blocking doors and windows. No power or heat for days. A family trapped in their car for two days. Winds roaring at almost 80 miles per hour.

This was no movie. Winter Storm Atlas was the real thing, a snow-laden behemoth that pummeled South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana in October and blew home the importance of preparations.

Thing is, the more often that people face blizzard warnings but nothing happens, they stop taking it seriously, says State Farm agent Bill Graves in Hot Springs, S.D., a native of the hardest-hit areas. Then a monster like Atlas comes pounding on the door. And people learn what a big mistake complacency is.

Before the conveniences of four-wheel-drive vehicles and smart phones that could show you a storm’s projected path, people were more self-reliant, he says. They knew utilities were unreliable, and that they had to shore up on food and water.

Duh, you say? Well, Graves describes the plight of a family of four who lived only 30 miles outside of Hot Springs, S.D. They didn’t have the supplies they needed but figured a four-wheel-drive vehicle would get them safely to town to buy necessities. So they left their home without the proper clothing or food in their vehicle. They were stuck for two days after running into five-foot snow drifts. Luckily, they were OK – but they learned a big lesson, he says.

Folks, you are never, ever going to beat the forces of nature. Get that in your noggins right now. But you can lessen the impact by taking proper safeguards.

“The message here is that surviving a blizzard is not hard – it just takes preparation,” says Dave Carpenter, director of the National Weather Service in South Dakota and a veteran of dozens of blizzards.

Carpenter and Graves offer these survival tips:

  • Even a storm that drops only a foot of snow can mean six- to 10-foot drifts that block doors and windows if there are strong winds, Carpenter says. Keep a shovel indoors and be prepared to tunnel your way out from the inside.
  • Don’t travel.
  • Protect pipes from freezing.
  • Falling branches cause the most damage, Carpenter says. Make sure you trim trees and clear power lines long before a storm threatens.
  • Have food that won’t need heating, batteries and water.
  • Gas up the car. It can be an alternative heat source and you can use it to charge your cell phone.
  • Stock up on medication and oxygen supplies.
  • Don’t forget pet and baby needs.
  • If you use alternative heat and cooking sources, make sure ventilation is adequate.
  • Never have open flames (candles, cook stoves, barbeques) indoors – especially while the storm is raging outside.
  • Make sure downed electrical lines connected to your outside service box aren’t arcing. If they are, call for emergency help right away.

Find out more about protecting your home from blizzards at greatwinterweatherparty.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.