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 Consumer 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. 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:

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 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

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.

Top 5 Tornado Myths

Myth #1:  Attempting to drive away from a tornado is a better survival plan than sheltering in place.

Fact: Tornadoes do not follow a specific path or route and can change direction at any time, so attempting to drive away is an extremely risky choice.  Tornadoes can turn a car into a 4,000-pound flying missile and occupants can become trapped and exposed to debris, rain, hail and/or dust.  Parking on traffic lanes is dangerous and illegal, and stalled or stopped cars can block emergency vehicles.

“A car is a more dangerous place to be than a well-constructed home in a tornado,” said Greg Carbin, Meteorologist for the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center.

The best place to shelter in a tornado is indoors.  However, if you are already in your car and a tornado is approaching, know that there is no safe option, just slightly less-dangerous ones.  If the tornado is visible, far away, and the traffic is light, you may be able to drive out of its path by moving at right angles to the tornado.  If you are caught by extreme winds or flying debris, park the car as quickly and safely as possible — out of the traffic lanes.  Stay in the car with the seat belt on.  Put your head down below the windows; cover your head with your hands and a blanket, coat or other cushion if possible.  If you can safely get noticeably lower than the level of the roadway, leave your car and lie in that area, covering your head with your hands.  Avoid seeking shelter under bridges, which can create deadly traffic hazards while offering little protection against flying debris.

Bottom Line:  Develop a personal plan for safety well ahead of tornadoes and identify your safe place options at home, school and work.  Start with certified shelters and safe rooms, safe spaces above or below ground, or community shelters in public spaces that are labeled as official tornado shelters like stores, malls, churches or even airports.

Myth #2:  Not everyone can receive tornado watches and warnings.

Fact:  Using a combination of NOAA weather radio and new smartphone weather alerting apps all but assures that you will receive lifesaving severe weather alert information and other emergency messages on a timely basis.  NOAA Weather Radio has delivered reliable watches and warning for more than 50 years and the advent of new, smartphone GPS, precision weather notifications have added enhanced mobility, speed and accuracy for families in harm’s way.

Bottom Line:  A Tornado Warning is issued when a tornado is imminent and the average lead time for tornado warnings is 13 minutes, so swift and accurate alerting is necessary. “Approximately 97 percent of Americans are within range of a NOAA weather radio broadcast,” said Walt Zaleski, Warning and Coordination Meteorologist, Southern Region, National Weather Service.  FLASH President and CEO Leslie Chapman-Henderson added, “Fifty-six percent of American adults now have smartphones. NOAA Weather Radio and smartphone apps like FLASH Weather Alerts provide the maximum, available time to seek safe shelter from a storm.”

Myth #3:  Nothing above ground can withstand an EF-4 or EF-5 tornado.

Fact:  It is entirely possible to harden and stiffen a room to withstand extreme winds, i.e. a small room, steel or concrete, or timber box equipped with a door that has been tested for pressure resistance and debris impact resistance.  The National Storm Shelter Association/ICC 500 standard and FEMA guidelines provide details on how to fabricate shelters or construct safe rooms that provide near absolute life protection, even in an EF-4 or EF-5.

Bottom line:  Expert forensic engineering examination of above-ground shelter and safe room performance during the 2011 Tuscaloosa and Joplin outbreaks as well as the May 20, 2013 Moore, Oklahoma tornadoes documented that properly constructed shelters and safe rooms consistently survive super tornadoes.  “In my 15 years of doing storm damage research and storm shelter research, we have never documented any deaths or injuries in above ground tested safe-rooms or failures of tested safe-rooms.  This includes the storms of Joplin 2011 and Moore 2013,” Larry Tanner, Texas Tech University Department of Construction Engineering and Engineering Technology.

Myth #4:  Building codes cannot make a difference in tornado outbreaks.

Fact:  Even if the tornado is EF-4 or EF-5, 95 percent of the damage occurs at EF-3 and below.  What this means is that the minimal construction standards required by building codes can make a meaningful difference if they are adopted and enforced.  Moreover, since 90 percent of all tornadoes never exceed EF-2, wind resistant building practices like those included in the 2012 International Residential Code can dramatically improve building performance in tornado outbreaks.

Bottom Line: Homes built to modern, model codes will have the advantage of better wall bracing, improved roof tie-downs and overall stronger connections.  “If we can put a man on the moon, we can keep a roof on a house,” said Dr. David Prevatt, Assistant Professor University of Florida Wind Department of Civil and Coastal Engineering.

Myth #5:   We cannot affordably build to withstand tornadoes.

Fact:  The National Climatic Data Center estimates that 77 percent of U.S. tornadoes are in the EF-0 to EF-1 range and 95 percent have wind speeds less than EF-3 intensity.   A recent cost study revealed that using an average of $0.50 per square foot or $1,000 in metal connectors installed from a home’s roof to its foundation could upgrade a home’s ability to withstand wind uplift from an EF-0 to an EF-2 tornado.

Bottom Line:  Approximately 90 percent of tornadoes are at the EF-2 level or lower. “An increase in baseline construction costs of just $.50 per square foot can boost a structure’s wind resistance from EF-0 to EF-2 levels,” said Randy Shackelford Research Engineer/Code Specialist Simpson Strong-Tie.  A minimal investment of $.50 per square foot or $1,000 for a 2,000 square foot home will help save lives and minimize property damage.

To learn more, visit www.flash.org.

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.