September 30 is National PrepareAthon! Day – Be Smart. Take Part. Document and Insure Your Property

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With signs of fall creeping up across the country, families may be feeling as if the hurricane season is over. The experts say no. In fact, September is not only the peak of hurricane season, September 30 is National PrepareAthon! Day the perfect time to take stock of disaster plans.

Today, National Hurricane Center Director Dr. Rick Knabb joined forces with Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH) President and CEO Leslie Chapman-Henderson during a national satellite media tour to raise awareness about flood and hurricane safety, prevention and financial protection options.

“Hurricanes are not just a coastal problem,” said Knabb. “Their impacts can be felt hundreds of miles inland. You need to find out what types of hazards could happen where you live, and then start preparing for how to handle them.”

Chapman-Henderson concurs. “If a disaster strikes, having the proper insurance for your home is the best way to ensure you will have the necessary financial resources to help you repair, rebuild, or replace whatever is damaged.”

Before a disaster strikes, get #HurricaneStrong with these tips:

  • Be Smart. Take Part. Document and Insure Your Property. Have an insurance check-up. Coverage amounts, deductibles, and payment caps can vary significantly. Consult with your insurance professional to be sure your policy is right for you. Make updates based on new purchases, renovations, increases in property value, or increases in costs to rebuild or replace items. Buy flood insurance. This is not part of your homeowners’ policy and there is a 30-day waiting period before coverage begins.
  • Know your evacuation zone. Plan your escape route, where you will stay and what you will do with your pets. Storm surge is the greatest threat to life and property from a hurricane regardless of wind speed.
  • Family Preparedness – Build a disaster supply kit. You’ll need to plan for two situations: Remaining in your home after a disaster or evacuating to a safer location. Keep cash on-hand because ATMs won’t function during a power outage.
  • Damage Prevention – Strengthen your home. The best place to start is with a Do-It-Yourself Wind Inspection to find out what needs attention. Make a list of what needs to be done, such as securing loose items that could be blown away by high winds. Trim your trees of dead branches that could become windborne missiles.
  • Community Service – Help your neighbor. Join with others to prepare for emergencies and participate in National PrepareAthon! Day on September 30.

For more information, visit ready.gov/prepare, flash.org or hurricanestrong.org.

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Safe Rooms Save Lives

By John Zarrella – Former CNN Correspondent

I had been in Oklahoma City (OKC) for just over a week. It was 1995. Spring, a time for rebirth, was put on hold and buried beneath crumbled concrete and shattered lives. Many of us had gone in to cover the aftermath of the bombing at the Murray Federal Building. Crews and reporters had been rotating in and out since the horrific April 19th attack.

By now, April had turned to May. The seventh was a quiet Sunday. We were staffing the CNN workspace in case there were any developments on the bombing. But the story that day centered more on the weather. The local stations were reporting that the atmosphere was ripe for supercells. They were right.

By midafternoon, bulletins were coming in of a half-mile-wide tornado on the ground west of Ardmore, a city one hundred miles to the south of OKC. This tornado dissipated after killing an elderly man and injuring several other people.  But this supercell wasn’t done. It recycled and a second tornado, just as big, dropped out of the sky crossing the Red River and heading toward Ardmore.

We were nearly two hours away, but there was no question we had to go. This could be really bad. I had chased plenty of hurricanes over the years but never a tornado. I kept scanning the landscape around us, half believing that I’d see one suddenly appear. I remember as we drove south thinking just how strange the clouds looked and that the colors were an eerie cotton candy—unlike any I’d seen in Florida.  A Michelin tire factory had reportedly been hit hard, and we headed there first. Of course, by the time we arrived, the tornado was gone. The tornado also damaged some nearby buildings on the outskirts of Ardmore but lifted up just before it reached the heart of the city. They were fortunate that day. Combined the two tornadoes were on the ground for about a combined sixty miles.

Fast forward twenty years, and I’m suddenly connected back to that Spring in OKC. Pataya Scott, a PHD candidate at Texas Tech University told me growing up in Oklahoma City she had spent, “lots of time in a closet under the stairs.” Pataya was one of several brilliant University students at the FLASH Annual Conference giving presentations on their work in various fields of disaster mitigation.

These students were studying roofing systems, human behavior and response before and after disasters, communications, and hurricane winds. Pataya is studying the devastating 2011 Joplin, Missouri tornado. She explained, “I’ll be looking at remote sensing data on damage from the Joplin tornado so things like aerial photos, drive by photos, and Google street views seeing the level of damage for each building. So, it’s going to take a lot of time analyzing all those six thousand documented damaged buildings.”

On the ground for twenty-two miles and thirty-eight minutes, the 2011 Joplin, Missouri tornado killed nearly 160 people. Pataya is focusing on construction, wind direction, materials, and architecture; and is determining what kind of buildings hold up better, for instance homes with attached garages and those without.

“Two story buildings area usually more robust so they’re going to do a little better than one story, but how much better is what I’m going to see,” she says. Pataya is just now finishing up the database. Time to start answering the questions!

In listening to Pataya’s work, I was immediately struck by how far the disaster mitigation movement has come in twenty years. Sure, there was talk about it back in 1995, three years after Hurricane Andrew. That storm was the wake-up call. But today, mitigation addresses all perils.

Dr. Ernst Kiesling has spent a lifetime studying tornado mitigation. Shelters are his expertise. “I would have thought in terms of storm shelters we’d be a little further along,” he says, “But overall, I’m grateful for the progress.  We’ve taken a lot of steps, lots of small steps.  We’re getting there.”

As we ramp up toward the height of tornado season, Kiesling says it’s a double edged sword. “We worry about the vulnerability of communities, but also take heart that there is an increase in interest in tornado shelters and improved construction. So, there’s good news and bad news with that because we certainly see with every major tornado an uptick in public consciousness of safety and increased sales in storm shelters and better readiness for the future.”

However, he warns that not all that glitters is gold. Consumers need to carefully consider what they are getting when purchasing a shelter. “There are excellent products available, but there’s also a lot of stuff that’s not good on the market. We have a real problem in quality control and requiring standard compliance, and it’s not a regulated industry.”

Back in 1995, the people of Ardmore were very fortunate. They got lucky. But today, science, engineering, and public awareness is finally beginning to remove luck from the equation. As Dr. Kiesling says, “we’re doing pretty darn well.”

Related Links 

Community Tornado Shelter “Absolutely Saved Lives” in Alabama 

Tale of Two Homes – Tornado 

Keep Calm, Be Prepared, and El Niño On

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By John Zarrella – Former CNN Correspondent

El Niño – it means the child or the Christ Child in Spanish. However, the name is a terrible contradiction. El Niño conjures the image of a beautiful, cherubic baby. It is certainly not that. One climatologist describes this weather phenomenon as, “mudslides in Los Angeles and golfing in Minneapolis. And there can be a lot of chaos in between.”

Well, what is an El Niño? An El Niño is a warming of the Equatorial Pacific waters. Fishermen in South America gave it the name El Niño because the waters would get warm around Christmas time and the fish would disappear. These days, everybody seems to be talking about it. You can’t pick up a paper or turn on the news without seeing a story. In fact, as I was writing this, an old friend at CBS was doing a piece on it for Sunday Morning. Clearly, El Niño is already a headline maker, and it hasn’t yet kicked into full throttle.

NASA climatologist Bill Patzert at the Jet Propulsion Lab in California has likened this one to one of the all-time greatest monsters, “It’s truly the Godzilla El Niño,” Patzert told me. If it is not the most powerful yet, he believes it soon will be based on the satellite images and data he’s analyzing. And, this El Niño may have played a role in the recent deadly tornadoes in the South and the short sleeve and shorts winter weather in the Northeast.

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So why so much interest now? In a word: worry. Really intense El Niño events seem to take place about every 15 years give or take: 1982-83, 1997-98, which is the strongest to date. They have profound impacts on the weather, flooding and mudslides in California; wet, turbulent weather in Texas and along the Gulf Coast; and warm conditions in the Northeast. “So all the pieces on the weather board are rearranged and there’s a lot of volatility not just in the U.S. but across the planet,” according to Patzert.

That volatility left 42 people dead and 260 injured in Central Florida in February 1998. Seven tornadoes touched down overnight during the worst outbreak ever in the state.

Is that or something similar going to happen again? No one knows because as Mike Halpert says, “No two El Niño’s are alike.”

Halpert is Deputy Director of NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.  The scientists there measure El Niño’s strength not only by the ocean’s heat but how the atmosphere is reacting to it.  Halpert said, “What we think is really more important isn’t what the ocean does, it’s what the atmosphere overlying the ocean does because, that’s what kicks off the rest of the impacts globally.”

So far, Harpert says, this El Niño is weaker in the atmosphere than the two previous big El Niño events.  Does that mean the impacts will be less severe? Possibly but, there’s no way to know. Why?  Halpert says there just isn’t enough of an El Niño sample size.  He added, “We don’t have good data that goes back thousands of years. I mean we haven’t seen that many of these kinds of things.”

Frankly, it really does not matter where this occurrence of El Niño lands in the power rankings. It’s all about when the dust settles, how bad was it? We’ve already seen the first glimpses. And even though the sample size is small, there’s enough historical data, scientists say, to tell us we need to be prepared.

There’s still time to get prepared, but don’t put it off any longer. Start by making sure you have a NOAA weather radio, plus a smartphone app like FLASH Weather Alerts that includes “follow me” technology and text-to-speech alerting. You can select alerts for all the different weather hazards, including flood, freeze, and tornadoes.

If you know your area is prone to flooding or mudslides, remember “Turn Around, Don’t Drown”, and never cross a flooded roadway. Keep sandbags on hand, and make sure you have up-to-date flood insurance. Do you have emergency supplies on hand including bottled water? You need to! Have you taken a recent inventory of everything you own? If not, do it now. If you are in a tornado threat area, consider installing a tornado safe room or shelter, but make sure it is either built using FEMA 320 or the ICC 500 standard.

For the U.S., the big “worry” months have just arrived. “Beginning in January and February”, Patzert told me, “we should see a convoy of storms coming straight out of the Western Pacific slamming into California and Southwest Texas and these storms actually get pumped up as they go over the Northern Gulf of Mexico and some of the worst damage may be in Florida.”

For all the misery El Niño can dish out, there are a couple plusses. Scientists say it won’t end the drought in California but it should make a dent, and a warm winter saves the U.S. billions in heating costs.

The experts believe this El Niño will likely last into the late spring and could linger into early summer. What comes next? Halpert says, “It’s a good bet that when this El Niño ends the next thing we have will be a La Niña.” During a La Niña, the waters in the Pacific cool off, and the weather patterns change. Where El Niño events put a lid on Atlantic Hurricanes, La Niña’s are like muscle milk to Atlantic storms! Hurricane Season could become interesting.

Related Links

Flash Weather Alerts App – Mobilize Your Weather Radio

How to Protect Your Home from Flood Damage

Jet Propulsion Lab

“Turn Around, Don’t Drown

Which Tornado Safe Room is Right for You?

Hurricane Center Director Deconstructs “Lite” Season

By John Zarrella – Former CNN Correspondent

It’s over. Put a fork in it. The 2015 Hurricane season is done. You get six months to exhale unless something crazy stupid happens! No more looking over the shoulder out into the Atlantic or Gulf wondering if that puff of clouds might grow into the next named storm. No more wondering if this might be the year your town or city’s luck runs out.

Unfortunately we, the collective we who live in harm’s way, don’t really seem to wonder near enough. And if you’re not wondering then you’re certainly not doing much to prepare. Over the years, study after study has shown most folks living along the coastal United States from Maine to Texas don’t give hurricanes much thought until one is about to beat down their door.

And that is troubling to the experts. I talked recently with National Hurricane Center Director Rick Knabb. “I fear that so many coastal and inland residents at risk to wind and water hazards have forgotten how to get ready for the next hurricane season. We must take action now to survive the storm and be resilient in the aftermath.”

Sadly, it’s the same refrain Knabb’s predecessors shared with me over and over again, decade after decade. Whether it was Bob Sheets or Max Mayfield or Bill Read or Jerry Jarrell and all the way back to Neil Frank the fear was people were not paying attention. Bottom line, not much has changed. The directors talk, we don’t listen.

Sure there are spikes in attention the season after a big one hits like an Andrew, Hugo, or Katrina. But then you get a few years in a row of relative calm and we, that collective we again, fall back into our old complacency. For every Hurricane Center director, complacency was the first ingredient in that recipe for disaster.

Knabb says one of his great frustrations is that it really doesn’t take a whole lot of heavy lifting to be ready, “Here’s a start to your hurricane resilience to do list: create an evacuation plan, buy supplies, update insurance, including flood, and strengthen your home.”

So, why put it off? Now that you can exhale, now that the season is over, there’s no better time to get your plan together. For thirty-five years going back to David and Frederick in 1979, I have covered hurricanes. The common denominator in every, single storm was last minute panic. There were no exceptions. You’ve seen the images, cars backed up for miles as people flee the storm. Supermarkets wiped out. How about the long, long endless lines that snaked around gas stations? The guy with the plywood sheets roped down to his compact car. And that’s just before the storm hits! Really? Do you look forward to that?

No one can tell you what next season will bring. Who could have predicted Florida, the peninsula that sticks out like a sore thumb would have gone ten years without a hurricane? Director Knabb says that doesn’t change his outlook, “I don’t know how much longer we have until we get another Florida hurricane, but they’re coming back at some point. I live in Florida, and I’m going to continue to plan every year as if my house could be hit by a hurricane.”

2015 was an El Nino year. Strong winds helped keep a lid on hurricane activity and shielded the U.S. mainland. But as Knabb says, it didn’t shield the Bahamas from Joaquin. “Do you think the people in the Bahamas care about how many numbers of storms there were this year? They care that they got hit. And that really is at the end of the day all that matters. And we can get hit in any year. We can get hit in any era, El Nino or not, and everybody tends to look for this thing that they can hang their hat on and say ‘ok, this season it’s not my problem’, but it is our problem every year.”

Here’s a case in point from the Zarrella personal experience archives. This hurricane season ended with eleven named storms. The last was November’s Hurricane Kate which turned away from land. Thirty years ago, the 1985 season ended with eleven named storms. You know the name of the eleventh? Kate. It too was a November hurricane. But, it didn’t turn out to sea.

My crew and I were in an RV. I probably should have thought that one through a little more! But, back in those days, the dark ages of television, we didn’t have satellite trucks lined up every few miles along the coastline. The RV was our production facility on wheels. We loaded it with food, camera equipment, and edit machines. We could shoot, write, and edit our stories all in one place and then drive to a feed point. It worked just fine until November 21.

We were heading down a two lane road towards Mexico Beach, Florida in the Panhandle. Problem was category two Kate got there first. So here we are in this RV as the storm comes ashore. Pine trees are snapping. The rain hit the windshield so hard and heavy that you could see absolutely nothing. It was a white out. The RV was trembling. Looking out the side window, I saw the tin roof of a barn lift off, then sail across a field until it was blown to bits.

My cameramen Doug Hart and Rudy Marshall were yelling, “We’ve got to get back to that house we saw up the road.” The roar of the storm outside was so loud you had to yell. My editor Steve Sonnenblick was behind the wheel. He began backing the RV up the road. There was no way we could turn around. The wind and rain was hitting us head on. If we attempted to turn, the RV would have been broadsided, and I have no doubt, would have flipped.

I don’t know how far we drove in reverse. It may have been a half a mile or so. But when you are driving in reverse on a two lane road in the middle of a hurricane, it takes a whole heck of a lot longer than you want! When we got close enough, we left the RV on the side of the road, ran for the house, and started banging on the front door. The husband and wife were more than a little bewildered seeing four guys standing on their porch, but they graciously let us in to ride out the storm.

The point is, as Knabb and all the other National Hurricane Center Directors have repeated until they were blue in the face, you have to be ready. You need a plan whether it’s June, November, or anytime in between. Why risk your life or the lives of your loved ones. No one has a crystal ball. No one can tell you when or if. Director . Knabb says, “We learned this season that you can have really, really horrible impacts in what had been forecast to be a below average year and what has been an El Nino year.”

And by the way, we never rented an RV again to cover a hurricane!

Foam, Dome & Drip – Tips for Preventing Frozen Pipes

 

As freezing temperatures threaten, prevent frozen water pipes, one of the costliest threats to your home, with three easy steps:

#1: FOAM

#2: DOMEBurst pipe

#3: DRIP

FOAM: Insulate pipes exposed to the elements or cold drafts. For as little as $1 per 6’ of insulation, you can stop pipes from freezing and save energy. By keeping your water warmer, you reduce the amount of energy needed to heat water in the cold, winter months.

DOME: Place an insulating dome or other coverings on outdoor faucets and spigots to reduce the likelihood of water pipes freezing, expanding and causing a costly leak.

DRIP: Allow a slow drip from your faucets to reduce the buildup of pressure in the pipes. Even if the pipes freeze, the released pressure in the water system will reduce the likelihood of a rupture. If you are going out of town and suspect the temperature will drop, turn off the water and open all of the taps to drain the water system. This way pipes won’t
freeze and you won’t return home to a mess.

Your local home improvement store will have all of the tools and expertise you will need to complete these steps. FOAM, DOME, DRIP your way to a safe winter season free of costly home repairs.

For more information on protecting your home from extreme cold conditions, visit www.flash.org. To stay abreast of severe weather alerts and find more mitigation tips, download FLASH Weather Alerts at www.flashweatheralerts.org.

All Hail…Spring is Time for Impact-Resistant Roofing

By Terry Sheridan, FLASH consumer writer

There’s no mistaking it. When you hear what sounds like golf balls cascading on your roof during a storm, it means hail. Hail can pit, dent, and shred your roof. But it doesn’t have to. So here’s a homeowner tip—consider an impact-resistant roof.

Hail is no small matter. It causes about $1 billion dollars in damage to crops and property each year, according to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). In 2013, there were 5,457 major hail storms nationwide, with most occurring in May, June, and July. Texas had the largest number of major hail storms, followed by Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and South Dakota.

Impact-resistant roofs are typically asphalt or metal roofing materials. But, these types of roofs can also be made to appear like wood or slate—thanks to materials like concrete, plastic, recycled rubber, or molded polymer that can be fashioned to look like the real thing.

The added impact-resistant roof protection is more expensive, but costs vary nationwide and by material. In Texas, for example, an asphalt impact-resistant roof can cost about $30 more per square foot—$1,200 for your average 4000-square foot roof, says John Hadden, loss mitigation coordinator for State Farm Insurance Company in Texas (State Farm is a FLASH Legacy Partner).

You’ll want either Class 3 or Class 4 roof material that meets the UL 2218 or FM 4473 test standards. Here’s why that’s important. Class 4 roof material has been tested to withstand the impact of a 2-inch diameter steel ball, simulating hail of a similar size and density, with no damage or fracture to the shingle. Class 3 roof material can withstand 1.75-inch steel ball.

Keep in mind, too, that “impact-resistant” doesn’t mean hail only. It also includes high winds and flying debris.

There’s another reason a Class 3 or 4 roof is important to you—it can save you money on your insurance premium. This varies by where you live and what kinds of weather and natural disaster losses your area faces. But, generally, discounts (that average around 15 percent) or can range from 1 percent to 29 percent, Hadden says.

Premium discounts last the lifetime of the roof—which varies by the type of material—and are transferable to another owner if you sell the house. The economics work well because the upgraded roof pays for itself over time.

Finally, keep in mind that not all roofing contractors who arrive in your neighborhood after a storm are reputable. Some will come seeking to sell impact-resistant roofs to homeowners, but these fraudsters won’t put on an impact-resistant roof, even if they charge for one. They’ll install a cheaper one instead and bill the insurers for the more expensive material.

So, homeowners should be on alert for these types of practices, and take steps to avoid fraud. Ask for references, and be sure to check them. Ask for proof of insurance, and never pay upfront before installations. Verify the roofing shingle products that the contractor is installing are the ones YOU ordered. Check the shingle package label and keep a copy for your records.

Remember, your roof doesn’t have to be damaged by hail. Consider an impact-resistant roof and be ready for hail, golf balls, or whatever comes your way.

8 Last Minute Extreme Cold Weather Tips for Families

With snow, strong winds and potential blizzard conditions in the forecast, FLASH offers the following eight (8) last minute tips to help protect your family and home.

Keep Safe & Warm

  1. Gather together an emergency kit and include flashlights, batteries, blankets, a battery-powered or hand-crank radio, non-perishable food, a can opener, cash, and an external battery pack for mobile devices.
  2. Organize layers of loose fitting, lightweight; warm clothing rather than one layer of heavy clothing. The outer garments should be tightly woven and water repellent.
  3. Use all heaters, fireplaces, generators and other appliances safely by remembering ventilation and avoiding use in wet areas. Never burn charcoal indoors.
  4. Fill up your car fuel tank at least half full in case of a prolonged power outage as gas stations rely on electricity to operate pumps and may not have a generator.
  5. Text SHELTER + your ZIP code to 43362 (4FEMA) to find the nearest shelter in your area (example: shelter 12345) if you cannot safely shelter at home.

Protect Your Home

  1. Insulate pipes exposed to the elements or cold drafts with insulating foam. For as little as $1 per 6’ of insulation, you can stop pipes from freezing and save energy. If you cannot purchase insulating foam in time, consider wrapping towels around pipes and fastening them with duct tape.
  2. Place an insulating dome or other covering on outdoor faucets and spigots to help prevent inside the pipes from freezing, expanding and causing costly leaks.
  3. Drip faucets to reduce the build-up of pressure in the pipes. Even if the pipes freeze, you have released the pressure from the water system reducing the likelihood of a rupture. If you are going out of town, and suspect that temperatures will drop or a power outage will occur, turn off the water to your home and open all of the taps to drain the water system to avoid returning to wet and damaged flooring, walls and electrical.

For more winter safety and prevention information, tips and resources, visit the Great Winter Weather Party. To enter to win a KOHLER standby generator to keep your home running when the power goes out, visit the sweepstakes entry page.