Forty-two States At Risk for Earthquake: Residents Should Prepare Now

Early damage reports from today’s earthquake validate the case for simple preparations for families and small businesses to help prevent injury, property damage, and post-earthquake fires

(Tallahassee, FL) Citing today’s Magnitude 6.0 Northern California earthquake, the nonprofit Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH) urges residents in 42 USGS-identified earthquake states to take immediate action to prevent injuries, property damage, and post-earthquake fires.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), “While all states have some potential for earthquakes, 42 of the 50 states have a reasonable chance of experiencing damaging ground shaking from an earthquake in 50 years (the typical lifetime of a building). Scientists also conclude that 16 states have a relatively high likelihood of experiencing damaging ground shaking. These states have historically experienced earthquakes with a magnitude 6.0 or greater. The hazard is especially high along the west coast, intermountain west, and in several active regions of the central and eastern U.S., such as near New Madrid, MO, and near Charleston, SC. The 16 states at highest risk are Alaska, Arkansas, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.”  USGS published new national seismic hazard maps last month.

“Buildings constructed with strong, modern seismic codes and standards will perform better in earthquakes, but it is up to the resident or building owner to take actions inside and around the structure to prevent injuries and interior damage from falling objects, broken glass, and gas leaks,” said FLASH President and CEO Leslie Chapman-Henderson. “Most of these critical preparations require only household tools and basic home improvement skills, so acting now before the next earthquake can mean the difference between life and death.”

Chapman-Henderson provided prevention examples for homes and small businesses, including:

  • Support ceiling fans and light fixtures using bracing wire secured to a screw eye embedded at least an inch into the ceiling joist.
  • Anchor the tops of bookcases, file cabinets, and entertainment centers to one or more studs with flexible fasteners.
  • Secure loose shelving by fastening screws into the cabinet or with museum putty placed at each corner bracket.
  • Secure china, collectibles, trophies, and other shelf items with museum putty.
  • Install a lip or blocking device to prevent books or other articles from falling off shelves.
  • Secure televisions, computers, and stereos with buckles and safety straps that also allow easy removal and relocation.
  • Install latches on cabinet doors to prevent them from opening and spilling out contents.
  • Hang mirrors, pictures, and plants using closed hooks to prevent items from falling.
  • Cover windows with approved shatter-resistant safety film to protect against broken glass.
  • Ensure appliances have flexible gas or electrical connections.
  • Strap the top and bottom of a water heater using heavy-gauge metal strapping secured to wall studs.
  • Locate gas shutoff valve and know how to turn off the gas supply with the use of a specialty wrench. (video)
  • Relocate flammable liquids to a garage or outside storage location.

More free information and videos are available online at flash.org, www.youtube.com/stronghomes, and QuakeSmart.

Technical information is derived from FEMA document E-74 Reducing the Risks of Nonstructural Earthquake Damage. QuakeSmart is a FEMA National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP) initiative to help businesses in at-risk communities implement mitigation actions in addition to basic preparedness activities, such as creating and exercising disaster plans, preparing disaster supply kits, and knowing how to Drop, Cover, and Hold On (www.ShakeOut.org).

Hurricane Charley and the Tale of Two Homes: 10 Years Later

Rebuilding 188

By Terry Sheridan, FLASH Consumer Blogger

It’s been 10 years since Hurricane Charley tore through Punta Gorda on Florida’s Gulf Coast – a Category 4 monster that was the strongest to hit the U.S. since Andrew in 1992. Punta Gorda homeowner Jim Minardi survived Charley, but he isn’t about to throw any anniversary parties. The August 2004 storm pummeled his 43-year-old home, shearing off the roof, blowing out windows and trashing all of his possessions. Fortunately, he and his dogs were unhurt, and his partner, Teresa Fogolini, was out of town.

When the storm was farther south around Sanibel Island, Jim thought he could make a run for it out of the area. After all, Charley was a Category 1 storm with winds below 100 mph at that point. But, as hurricanes often do, it grew more fierce. By the time it churned through Charlotte Harbor, Charley packed a lot more muscle. By then, it was too late to leave.

Jim hunkered down in a windowless interior bathroom and waited. There was little damage to his home before the calm of the eye passed over. So during “halftime,” as he puts it, Jim went to a neighbor’s shuttered home to wait out the rest of the storm. It was the back end of the storm that ripped into Jim’s home – and his roof crashed into that same neighbor’s pool screening.

Thanks to interest from Home Improvement expert Bob Vila and FLASH, one year later, Jim and Teresa were in a new home built to state-of-the-art building codes and hurricane protective measures. You can see the before-and-after and what was done to bolster their new home’s safety in this “Tale of Two Homes” video. Despite a much more hurricane-resistant home, the Charley ordeal and aftermath left Jim wiser – and worried during hurricane season, particularly for people with older homes.

Retrofit, retrofit, retrofit as much as possible, he urges those homeowners. Roofing tie downs and hurricane shutters are “cheap insurance,” Jim says. The rebuilt home has impact-resistant windows, so Jim believes he can forego shutters.

There’s one thing he considered adding to the new home: a safe room. Punta Gorda officials pointed out it would only be useful for tornadoes, not hurricanes, because the home’s waterfront location made it vulnerable to rising waters from storm surge. Officials warned that Jim and Teresa should always consider evacuation because they could drown if they stayed behind in a hurricane.

So, given that his home is much sturdier than the previous one, would Jim leave or go through another storm? “I ask myself that all the time,” he says. While he believes the reinforced home would withstand the impact, the trauma of what he endured with Charley lingers.

“I think I would leave,” he says. “But I’m pretty confident the home will be there after the next storm.”

Find more information about hurricanes and how to protect your home at 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.

Disaster Savings Accounts Would Help Shore Up Homes and Finances

By Terry Sheridan, FLASH Consumer Blogger

Residents of Oso, Washington were traumatized on March 22 when a massive mudslide swept through the area engulfing homes and claiming lives.  Months later, residents are still handling the aftermath of this tragedy as best as possible, but the financial burdens of rebuilding often become as traumatic as the disaster itself.

Help could be on the way in the form of proposed federal legislation allowing homeowners and renters to set aside up to $5,000 every year in a disaster savings account – tax-free if the money is used for post-disaster repairs or pre-disaster mitigation.  The money rolls over every year and there’s no limit to how much can be accumulated.

If the Disaster Savings Accounts Act which is still wending its way through Congressional committees passes, homeowners and renters alike could establish accounts to use for future natural disasters.

“Disaster Savings Accounts would provide people the opportunity to protect their belongings and families,” says U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.), co-sponsor of the bill with U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.).

While the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and other government agencies provide limited relief to disaster victims, “… recovery assistance is after the fact,” Ross says. “We want to equip homeowners so that they can protect themselves before a disaster strikes and not when they’re forced to rummage through the remains of their homes after a flood, hurricane or earthquake.”

Ahead of a disaster, the pre-tax savings can be used to pay for home fortifications such as a safe room, wind resistant windows and doors, or elevating structures in flood zones.  After a disaster, savings can be used to help close the gap between insurance deductibles and other recovery funds.  In that case, the event must be a state or federally declared disaster and the homeowner or renter must have uninsured losses totaling at least $3,000.

“Insurance doesn’t cover all losses or cleanup expenses, particularly personal losses,” says former FEMA director James Lee Witt, Democratic candidate for the 4th Congressional District in Arkansas.  For example, if the bill was in effect at the time of the mudslide, Oso residents with accounts could have used them to cover uninsured personal casualty losses above $3,000 because they are in a formal disaster area.

Supporters for the bill come from all sectors, e.g. FLASH, The Home Depot, National Association of Home Builders, National Association of Insurance Commissioners, The Nature Conservancy and leaders like Moore, Oklahoma Mayor Glenn Lewis and former FEMA director James Lee Witt.

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.

 

Preparedness Tips for Arthur

Now is the time to prepare your family and home for Arthur before the store shelves are empty and conditions are dangerous. FLASH offers the following tips for residents to prepare for severe weather conditions.

Protect Your Home

1. Check your hurricane shutters to make sure they are working properly and fit securely to ensure proper protection.

2. Go Tapeless! Never use tape on windows. If you do not have shutters, install temporary, emergency plywood shutters. Learn how to properly measure and install them.

3. Secure or relocate outdoor items such as trash cans, grills, toys and potted plants.  Remove any dead tree limbs carefully, if time permits.

4. Make sure all doors and windows are properly caulked and/or weather-stripped to reduce potential water intrusion, if time permits.

5. Replace rocks in your landscape with fire treated shredded mulch or other lightweight material, if time permits.

Prepare Your Family

6. Know if you are in a hurricane evacuation zone and have a plan.  Hurricane evacuation boundaries are based on the threat of water, not wind, and nearly all evacuation orders are issued due to threat of inland flooding and storm surge.

7. Make sure your 72-hour emergency kit is complete. Some items you should include:

  • Enough food and water for all members of the family, including pets
  • Extra cash
  • A battery powered NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards or download the FLASH Weather Alerts App
  • First aid kit and toiletries
  • Flashlights and extra batteries
  • Blankets, pillows, extra clothes, toys and games to keep the family comfortable and occupied
  • Special items for babies, pets and family members with special medical needs

8. Gather and store important paperwork like insurance and mortgage documents, and marriage certificates in waterproof containers. You can also scan copies and store them on a USB drive or take a photograph with your smartphone. Include these items in your emergency kit.

9. Fill your gas tank; gas stations rely on electricity to power pumps.

If You Lose Power 

10.  If you have space in your refrigerator or freezer, consider filling plastic containers with water leaving about an inch of space inside each one. This chilled or frozen water will help keep food cold if the power goes out.

11. Never use candles as they pose a fire hazard.

12. Don’t run a gas-powered generator inside a home or a garage – use only in well ventilated areas.

13. Connect only individual appliances to portable generators and never plug a into wall outlets. Plugging generators into the home’s electrical system can feed electricity back into the power lines and endanger both you and line workers.

For more information on protecting your home from hurricanes visit the FLASH hurricane page or Great Hurricane Blowout preparedness campaign.

Lightning Victim Strikes Back

By Terry Sheridan, FLASH Consumer Blogger

Bill Prince knew his Chicago-area home was hit by lightning even before he saw the burned portion of his cedar shake roof.

“It’s a very loud explosion and you know immediately when it hits because the concussion from the heating of the air shakes everything,” he says.

Prince grabbed a fire extinguisher and headed to the attic, the smell of burned wood growing stronger. He called 911, and soon thereafter firemen using a thermal camera examined the roof and structural supports for any sign of fire, hidden embers, or hot spots.

They didn’t find anything, but the lightning had hit a corner of the roof causing $20,000 in damage where the main roof support joist exploded.

That happened in 2010, and after several years of exploring lightning protection systems, Prince opted to use air terminals–lightning rods connected by copper cable that run from the home’s  corners down to the ground.  The cable is buried approximately 10 feet underground.  Once installed, the highly conductive copper and aluminum materials provide a low resistance path to safely bring lightning’s dangerous electricity down to the ground.  The goal of grounding a house is to take lightning’s electrical charge and shuttle it into the dirt.  Prince’s professional installation was completed in April.  Typical grounding costs between $1,500 and $4,200, depending on the size of the home.

If you’re thinking your home is already is grounded, you’re only partly correct.  A home’s electrical conduit in the walls and attic is grounded, but it’s not enough to withstand a jolt of lightning that can pack heat of more than 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit.  Prince’s protection system adds grounding to his home’s piping and water system.  And both circuit breaker boxes have surge protectors.

Are these protective rods and cable unsightly?  No.  In fact, they’re quite unobtrusive and come in a variety of finishes and styles.  On Prince’s house, the 12- to 18-inch terminals are no bigger than the diameter of a ballpoint pen and their copper color will oxidize and eventually turn to brown and match the color of his wood roof.  The copper cable is tucked along the home’s downspouts and will turn to brown as well.  When a lightning protection network is in place, a lightning strike is intercepted and directed to the ground without impact to the people, contents or structure.

From June 22 to 28, Lightning Safety Awareness Week will bring national attention to lightning safety and property protection.  Learn more by visiting flash.org and lightning.org and remember, When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors!

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 wildfire protection your burning desire

By: Terry Sheridan, FLASH Consumer Blogger

Jeff Shapiro admits he should have known better about wildfire precautions. He is, after all, a fire protection engineer. Shapiro got his wakeup call in 2011.

The catastrophic Bastrop County wildfire of Labor Day weekend in 2011 burned 32,400 acres and destroyed almost 2,900 buildings – most of them homes – southeast of Austin in central Texas. It’s described as the most destructive wild land urban interface wildfire in Texas history.

During the same weekend, wildfire destroyed 23 homes in the Steiner Ranch community on the northwest side of Austin. Shapiro lives just five miles away in Jester Estates.

Before Bastrop, it had been decades since the last wildfire in the canyon behind his house, Shapiro says. “When I purchased my lot in 2000, everything was wet and green,” he adds. No one in his neighborhood really thought about wildfires, including him.

But the hot, dry climate change and Jester’s position atop a plateau surrounded by fire-friendly wild land raises the community’s burn potential. So Shapiro got to work.

He installed a fire sprinkler system in a home already constructed of fire-resistant concrete board and stone, and Class A fire-retardant asphalt shingles on the roof; trimmed low-hanging branches on trees to make “fuel breaks” that slow a fire’s upward climb; and created open spaces between pockets of trees instead of having continuous vegetation that would feed a fire.

But wildfire protection requires community action to be most effective. Though Jester Estates is now a “Firewise Community,” a designation by the National Fire Protection Association, not all homeowners have embraced the effort.

“People are apathetic if there hasn’t been a fire recently and, if there has been, there’s a denial factor,” says Shapiro, chairman of Jester’s Firewise Community safety committee. “There seems to be an expectation that the fire service will save you.” But depending on the number of fires and fire-fighting resources, that protection may not arrive, he adds.

From a firefighter’s perspective, Justice Jones says homeowners who followed recommendations to protect their homes during the Bastrop fire had a greater ability to survive the fire without firefighters’ help.

“That’s not to say that firefighters won’t make every effort to defend homes. But applying these tactics improves the chances of protecting  the structure,” says Jones, Fire Adapted Communities coordinator for the Austin Fire Department’s Wildfire Division.

In addition to Shapiro’s precautions, Jones offers these tips to protect your home.

  • Embers are the biggest danger.  Install ember-resistant roof and foundation vents or 1/8-inch metal mesh behind the openings. Check local building codes first.
  • Remove leaves, pine needles and other combustible material from gutters.
  • Create a barrier surrounding the house, and decks and porches, that’s free of mulch and other combustible material.
  • Protect your home with non-combustible roofing and siding material.

Find more information about wildfire protection here :

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

http://www.firewise.org/?sso=0

Editor’s Note: Celebrate National Wildfire Community Preparedness Day on Saturday, May 3, a national effort to reduce wildfire risk through volunteer cleanup and clear-out projects. 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.

10 Tornado Safety Tips to Keep You Safe Before, During and After a Storm

With the tornadoes this weekend, today and possible tornadoes over the next few days, the nonprofit Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH) offers the following 10 tornado safety tips for residents in the affected areas.

Before

1. Create a family tornado plan and know where you can take shelter.

2. Closely monitor a NOAA Weather Radio or download the FLASH Weather Alerts app on your iOS or Android device.

During

3. Take refuge in a tested and approved storm shelter, safe room or a community storm shelter labeled as an official tornado shelter. Community storm shelters may be found by contacting your local Office of Emergency Management for the closest community storm shelter. If available, community storm shelters are commonly located in community buildings, such as schools, libraries, churches or even airports.

4. If no shelter is available:

  • Are you indoors? Go to the lowest floor, to a small, center interior room, under a stairwell or to an interior hallway with no windows.Crouch down as low as possible to the floor, face down and cover your head with your arms. Cover yourself with a blanket, mattress, helmet or other thick covering. Wear footwear with thick soles to your safe location.
  • Are you in a mobile home? Get out. Even if your home is tied down, it is not as safe as a sturdy building. Go to a nearby permanent structure.
  • Are you in a vehicle? Do not attempt to drive away from a tornado.  Go to a nearby permanent structure. Do not shelter under an overpass, bridge or in a drainage ditch. If you cannot safely exit your vehicle, park it out of traffic lanes. Stay in the vehicle with your seatbelt on. Put your head below the windows and protect it with your arms and a blanket, coat or other cushion.
  • Are you outdoors? Shelter in a sturdy building. If no shelter is available, lie face down on low ground, protecting the back of your head with your arms.

After

5. Keep your family together in a safe location and wait for emergency personnel to arrive.

6. Stay away from power lines, downed trees and puddles that could hide live wires.

7. Watch your step to avoid sharp objects.

8. Stay out of heavily damaged structures, as they may collapse.

9. Do not use matches or lighters in case of leaking natural gas or fuel tanks.

10. Listen to your radio for information and instructions.

Installing a safe room or storm shelter built to FEMA P-361 guidelines or the ICC/NSSA 500 standard can make a life or death difference.  A site-built safe room can also be constructed in accordance with the prescriptive designs found in FEMA P-320: Taking Shelter from the Storm: Building a Safe Room for Your Home or Small Business, which meets the FEMA P-361 guidelines and the ICC/NSSA 500 standard.