Dr. William Gray – A Man for All Seasons

By John Zarrella – Former CNN Correspondent

Oh joy. Hurricane season is nearly upon us. It’s like an annual check-up at the dentist. You don’t know what to expect! But if you brushed and flossed, you should be okay. Same can be said for hurricane season. If you have your emergency supplies ready, you’ve secured your home, and have an evacuation plan, you should be fine. If not, what are you waiting for? You need me to come over and hold your hand?

For me, this season will be very different. Perhaps the most recognizable voice in forecasting over the past half century will be silent. Bill Gray passed away last month. He was the “Vin Scully” of hurricanes. I hope you got a chuckle out of that line Bill. I know you were a huge baseball fan.Dr-William-Gray

When Dr. Gray started putting out his seasonal hurricane forecast in the 1980’s just about everybody rolled their eyes. Those who didn’t certainly raised an eyebrow. How times have changed! It’s safe to say Bill got the last laugh. Who doesn’t put one out these days? Heck, even I did. Bill was needling me one year to come up with my own numbers.  So, I did. He put it up on the board in his office at Colorado State University. At the end of the season, he sent a letter to my boss at CNN, Eason Jordan, telling Eason that my forecast had beaten his. I’m not sure how true that was but that was Bill, a wonderful, kind man with a tremendous sense of humor who at least publicly laughed off all those who thought he was a snake oil salesman.

Dr. Gray’s contribution was far more than just the science of forecasting. He elevated hurricane awareness more than any single individual. At CNN we’d attend the National Hurricane Conference and Florida Governor’s Hurricane Conference just to hear what Dr. Gray was forecasting and to get an interview with him. His forecast was always one of the top stories in the newscasts not just for CNN, but for other national news outlets and for local radio and televisions stations across the country. Today we would say his forecasts always went viral! Bill’s work transcended science. He would be the first to admit that over the years he threw in a clunker or two. But he got people’s attention like no one else could.

Now I’m not going to beat you over the head to get your attention.

Look, preparing for a hurricane is not rocket science and it doesn’t need to be crazy expensive. You know that. So, here’s something that will guide you through the process.

A new campaign called #HurricaneStrong is rolling out. Along with www.flash.org, it is everything you need to know about how to secure your home and protect your family. Is there anything more important? Do I need to answer that?

There are a number of activities this month to promote the campaign:

  • May 15 – 21 is National Hurricane Preparedness Week
  • On May 15, The Home Depot will conduct free do it yourself hurricane workshops in 695 stores in hurricane prone states. The same day, The Weather Channel program “Wx Geeks” will feature the campaign
  • The five day Hurricane Awareness Tour kicks off in San Antonio, on the 16th followed by stops in Galveston, New Orleans, Mobile, and Naples. Hurricane Hunter aircraft, pilots, and storm experts will be on hand.

Some of you are probably saying to yourselves, “I don’t need all that. I’ve been through a hurricane and know what to expect.” Do you? Last month I was honored to be the keynote speaker at the National Tropical Weather Conference in South Padre Island, Texas. I was talking about the speech with a producer, Rich Phillips, who had covered dozens of hurricanes with me. It struck both of us that out of all those storms, only on a few occasions we were close to the core of the storm where the really bad stuff happens. And consider this, no major hurricane, category three or higher has hit the U.S. since Wilma in 2005. Just because you experienced a hurricane doesn’t mean you really went through one. Keep that in mind in case one heads your way this year!

Here’s the bottom line. The more you do now, the easier it will be to recover after the storm passes. It’s real simple. Misery does not have to follow disaster.

Rising Up from the Rubble: A Look Back the 1985 Mexico City Earthquake

By John Zarrella – Former CNN Correspondent

There are moments, events in all our lives that are etched in our memories. They are with us forever. The good ones, we gladly recall. The bad ones, we’d like to forget or at least stuff away in some remote receptacle in our minds.

For me, one of those haunting events took place a little over thirty years ago in Mexico City, Mexico. On the morning of September 19, 1985 a magnitude 8.1 earthquake shook the ground beneath the city. More than four hundred buildings collapsed. People died. To this day, no one is quite sure how many. The 144225-004-6BAC8B6Festimates vary wildly from five thousand to thirty thousand.

That night, I was on the ground reporting for CNN. Fires still burned. Smoke rose from every corner of the city. People dazed and in shock stood on the streets, the rubble of homes and businesses around them. All they had left were the clothes they were wearing.

Yet, the image that remains most vivid for me is what transpired over the next week at the city’s Juarez Hospital. It had collapsed floor on top of floor.  Hundreds of doctors, nurses and patients died. Every night we would go there for updates and to watch rescuers dig through the debris. Hundreds of people watched too, some hoping a relative would be pulled free others were just there because there was no place else to go. Huge spotlights run off generators were focused on the building, what was left of it. Every time the rescuers would hear something, a hint of life, the crowd went silent. There were survivor stories. In fact, more than dozen infants were pulled out alive. To this day, they are known as the “Miracle Babies.”

Mexico City was a long time ago and much has changed when it comes to earthquake resilience, awareness, and preparedness. I’d call it “RAP” if it helped get folks attention. Here at home, the focus on educating the public and strengthening infrastructure has never been greater. Look no further than next month when the National Earthquake Conference convenes in Long Beach, California. Held every four years, it brings together scientists, engineers, emergency managers, first responders, insurers; everybody who’s got skin in the game to discuss what’s new, what’s next, and developing a national strategy.

So now you’re raising your eyebrows. A national strategy you ask? Isn’t that like telling people in Alaska they need to worry about hurricanes! Well, unlike hurricanes, just about every state can be impacted by an earthquake. Remember 2011? The epicenter of a magnitude 5.8 was Louisa County, Virginia. If we go back a ways, between December of 1811 and February 1812, three earthquakes all estimated greater than magnitude 7.0 struck the central U.S. along the New Madrid Seismic Zone.  Experts say that area is thirty years overdue for a quake greater than six.

Now, unless you’ve seen it, lived through it, it is impossible to comprehend. But every expert will tell you that being prepared can be a game saver for you and your family. Just knowing the very basics can make a difference. So here’s a pop quiz. Do you know what to do if the ground starts shaking? It’s pretty straight forward…Drop, Cover, and Hold On. What you don’t do is run. Mark Benthien is Outreach Director for the Southern California Earthquake Center at USC. “When people run it’s not necessarily because they are in panic mode. It’s a rational reaction-they’re running because they are afraid of being hurt.” However, research shows people who run are more likely to be hurt. “It’s like running down the center of a plane during heavy turbulence,” Benthien says. The bottom line he adds, “Preparedness is about what you do ahead of time so you can survive and recover afterwards.”

And, the “afterwards” will last a whole lot longer than the event itself. Even in the biggest earthquake in Southern California, Benthien says, “Ninety-nine percent of the people will be alive and probably not injured but living in a different world. Their concern should be how are they going to live after that.”

There’s no reason to sugar coat it. It won’t be pretty. Benthien laid out what might happen in the aftermath of a large quake on the San Andreas Fault:

  • There could be as many as sixteen hundred fires burning. Not enough firefighters to put them all out. Mutual assistance from surrounding areas might not happen because they’d be dealing with their own issues.
  • Water and sewer pipes will fracture. Repairs to the concrete pipes could take weeks or longer and replacing them? In a given year Benthien says, “There isn’t enough concrete made in the world to replace it.”
  • Interstates 5 and 10 and the rail line might be impassable making it difficult at best to get in relief supplies and help.
  • With the Interstates and rail line crippled, goods coming into the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach might pile up on the docks. The entire nation would be affected.

So look, go to FLASH.org. Just take a few minutes of your time. You will find invaluable tips for keeping your family safe and your home earthquake ready. You can also go to Earthquakecountry.org and look for the seven steps to earthquake safety. What Mark Benthien said bears repeating, “Preparedness is about what you do ahead of time so you can survive and recover afterwards.”

Ten Post-Flood Tips from the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes

The Federal Alliance for Safe Homes, Inc. (FLASH)® offers the following cleanup, insurance, and safety tips for families preparing to return to flooded homes.

  1. Stay tuned to local news organizations for important announcements, bulletins, and instructions.
  2. You may not have immediate access to your home. Roads could be blocked, power lines could be down, and people may be trapped or in need of assistance.
  3. Make sure you have current identification. You may have to pass through identification checkpoints before being allowed access to your home/neighborhood.
  4. Do not attempt to drive through floodwaters. Remember the slogan, Turn Around, Don’t Drown® as there could be unseen dangers such as downed power lines, debris, or washed out roadways.
  5. Outside
    • Check for building stability before entry – sticking doors at the top may indicate a ceiling at risk of collapse.
    • Check foundation for any loose or missing blocks, bricks, stones or mortar.
  1. Inside
    • Assess stability of plaster and drywall – any bulging or swelling ceilings indicate damage that should be removed. Press upward on drywall ceilings. If nail heads appear, drywall will need to be re-nailed but can be saved.
    • To prevent warping of wooden doors, remove and disinfect all knobs and hardware, and lay flat and allow to air dry completely.
    • Remove wet drywall and insulation well above the high water mark.
  1. Take extensive photos and video for insurance claims. Only flood insurance typically covers damage from floods.
  2. Remove damaged items from the home. If you need evidence of damage, save swatches (carpet, curtains, etc.) for your insurance adjuster, and learn more about insurance from the newly-updated insurance guide, If Disaster Strikes Will You Be Covered?
  3. Consider having licensed, bonded professionals inspect your home for damage and help in repairs.
  4. Clean-Up
    • Wash and disinfect all surfaces, including cupboard interiors with a solution of 1/2 cup bleach to 2 gallons of water. Remove sliding doors and windows before cleaning and disinfect the sliders and the tracks.
    • Clean and disinfect air conditioning, heating, and ventilation ducts before use to avoid spread of airborne germs and mold spores.
    • Use fans and allow in sunlight to dry out interior spaces.
    • To avoid growth of microorganisms, household items should be dried completely before they are brought back in the house.
    • Remove wallpaper and coverings that came into contact with floodwaters. Don’t repaint or repair until drying is complete and humidity levels in the home have dropped.
    • The National Archives Websitehas information on how to clean up your family treasures. Although it may be difficult to throw certain items away, especially those with sentimental value, experts recommend that if you can’t clean it, you should dispose of it, especially if it has come into contact with water that may contain sewage.

For more information on protecting your home from flooding, visit www.flash.org, or FEMA at www.ready.gov.

Last House Standing™ … Edu-tainment, App-style

Jay Hamburg, FLASH Consumer Writer

Many of us know that where and how we build is a critical factor to surviving disasters, and now the new, fun, and free app from FLASH is spreading that message to players of all ages.

FLASH designed the engaging and informative Last House Standing (LHS) game with inspiration from research such as FEMA’s Preparedness in America report on public preparedness and perceptions. The report showed that 58% of 18 to 34-year-olds surveyed failed to recognize disaster safety as a priority. Survey respondents said they needed information, but did not know “where to begin” to become protected and resilient in the face of natural disasters.

Last House Standing solves that problem with a fun, fast-paced game. Each player starts with a budget of $100,000 and has three minutes to choose from many building parts and design pieces to create the best blend of great style and disaster resistance. After building your home, the game tests your design against hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires and more.

“Our goal is to introduce players to the idea that their choices help determine their level of disaster resilience,” said FLASH President and CEO, Leslie Chapman-Henderson. “The app does this by wrapping serious options about whether to build using a code or other strengthening features like metal connectors inside dozens of fantasy options from space domes to yurts. With only three minutes and a $100,000, players have to think fast to survive the disasters, but they learn that it can be done.”

Players also choose the locale of their home, which means they need to be aware of which natural disasters are most likely to affect the area. FLASH worked with many partners and volunteers to create a game that’s inviting, exciting, and provides easy-to-understand lessons about the importance of design and location in creating a safe, resilient home.

“With more than one hundred feature choices and millions of potential outcomes, the game will keep every audience engaged,” said former Walt Disney Imagineer and FLASH Board Member, Joe Tankersley. “In today’s crowded app world, serious games have to be informative and fun. FLASH has accomplished this with Last House Standing.”

Last House Standing is available for free on both iPhone and iPad here, and in Google Play here. LHS requires iOS 7.0 or later, and is compatible with iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. While the app is optimized for iPad 4 and later, iPhone 5, iPhone 6, and iPhone 6 Plus, it will operate on older models.

The Only Thing Worse Than No Tornado Safe Room is an Improperly Installed Tornado Safe Room

Jay Hamburg, FLASH Consumer Writer

The deadly outbreak of tornadoes in Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas, and across the central United States serves as a stark reminder of the lifesaving value that safe rooms can provide. At the same time, some tragic cases remind us that safe rooms can only protect you and your loved ones if they are properly installed.

Reports that heavy rainfalls caused some underground tornado safe rooms to pop up out of the ground serve as warnings that even a heavy, sturdy, underground tornado safe room can be dislodged by unexpected water flow during a tornado when installed the wrong way.

And, regardless of installation quality, you should never enter an underground tornado safe room if flooding is expected as water flow could cover air vents, or drowning could occur.

“If you have an underground tornado safe room, proper stabilizing and anchoring is very straightforward,” said FLASH SVP Tim Smail. “We recommend using a National Storm Shelter Association Installer Member or ensure your installer follows the ICC/NSSA-500 standard or FEMA P-361 guidelines.”

There are also many affordable options for prefabricated and site-built tornado safe rooms. Prefabricated safe rooms are those that are assembled off-site and transported to the site where they will be installed. A site-built safe room is assembled and installed on-site. Regardless of which type of safe room you choose, be sure to discuss the following with your safe room installation contractor:

  1. Is your home located in a floodplain? If so, keep in mind FEMA P-361 does not allow safe rooms to be installed in high-risk flood hazard areas.
  2. Does your property have the proper access for equipment needed for installation? Installation could involve a large crane or flatbed truck.
  3. Are there easements on your property that would limit where a safe room could be installed?
  4. Have you checked with your neighborhood association to see what design or structural guidelines must be followed? Many associations have rules regarding outdoor structures and their placement.

Most types of tornado safe rooms can be installed and completed in a day, with the average cost for an 8-by-8 foot room ranging from $8,000 to $9,500. Each offers different advantages, but when built and installed properly, all provide the best available life safety and property protection against tornadoes. And it is essential that we point out the need to use a tested door.

The myth that there is nothing you can do to protect against a tornado is false. We want consumers to know that they can survive if they choose smart. Our new video series, Which Tornado Safe Room is Right for You, will help them get started.

New Videos from the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH)® Meet Demand for Tornado Safe Room Information

Nonprofit releases “Which Tornado Safe Room is Right for You?” video series in conjunction with America’s PrepareAthon! national readiness campaign

(Tallahassee, FL)— According to tornado watch data from the National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center, nearly 90% of U.S. counties experienced tornado watches between 2004 and 2013, for an average of 27 watch hours per year. In response to increased interest in tornado safe rooms driven by this pattern, as well as recent, deadly outbreaks, the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH) today released new videos highlighting five of the most common tornado safe room choices.

FLASH, FEMA, and Portland Cement Association developed the video series in response to consumer desire to better understand their tornado safe room options. The series, “Which Tornado Safe Room is Right for You?”, provides comparative information on cast-in-place, concrete block masonry, insulated concrete forms, precast concrete, and wood-frame safe rooms.

“Today’s marketplace offers an unprecedented range of high-performing, affordable options to save lives and preserve peace of mind for the millions of families in the path of severe weather,” said FLASH President and CEO Leslie Chapman-Henderson. “These videos will help families understand their options for a properly built safe room that will deliver life safety when it counts.”

The new video series is offered in conjunction with America’s PrepareAthon!, an opportunity for individuals, organizations, and communities to come together and prepare for specific hazards through drills, group discussions, and exercises. April 30 is National PrepareAthon! Day, a day to take action in advance of natural hazards, including tornadoes.

To find out more about tornado safe rooms visit flash.org.

QuakeSmart Now—Earthquake Safe Later: California Employers Lead the Way

By Terry Sheridan – FLASH Consumer Reporter

The magnitude 6.0 earthquake that struck picturesque Napa Valley on August 24 was Northern California’s strongest since Loma Prieta 25 years earlier. And if there is anything positive to come from it, it’s that it likely shook awareness into people about the need to prepare.

That’s where QuakeSmart™ comes in.

QuakeSmart is a mitigation program for businesses launched in 2008 by FEMA and the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program. The goal is to guide business owners in protecting their buildings, employees, and equipment with non-structural and structural reinforcements.

That’s how Becky Pereira and Tom Spada, both in San Jose, California, discovered what they’d need to do for their homes or office buildings. They learned that mitigation efforts can be as simple or complex as you want to make them — including projects like anchoring office and kitchen appliances and securing cabinet doors, desks, file cabinets, computers, TVs, and racks.

Becky’s in charge of health and safety coordination as a vendor for a Silicon Valley technology company in three high-rise office buildings totaling 54 floors. Each floor has a break room with a refrigerator, beverage cooler, and countertop appliances like microwaves and coffeemakers. Labs for software testing have numerous equipment racks, and their café has larger kitchen appliances and equipment.

Her experience in the Quake Cottage™ simulator of a magnitude 8.0 earthquake during a Building Owners and Managers Association presentation helped convince her that mitigation was needed. As a result, she made sure that anything that could move or fall was anchored by a contractor’s crew who spent several nights doing the work.

Even more, employees were receptive to retrofitting their own homes after a few seconds of simulated shaking in the Quake Cottage which the company brought to its offices for employees to experience.

Tom is the facilities maintenance administrator for the Santa Clara Valley Water District. He oversees maintenance of an administrative campus that includes six office buildings, a yard, two warehouses, four water treatment plants, three pump stations, and a water quality lab where one piece of equipment alone costs $500,000.

Bearing in mind that Santa Clara County sits atop three major fault lines, Tom brought in a contractor who provided anchoring kits and trained and certified Tom’s staff so that everyone knows how to use the tie-downs. So far, the project has cost about $7,300 for the lab.

Tom’s unsure how much the overall cost will be, but he is sure of an earthquake’s toll. A prior water treatment plant was destroyed in the 1989 magnitude 6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake that decimated the San Francisco-Oakland area.   

Nothing is foolproof, of course. But, as Becky says, “It’s not if another quake will hit. It’s when.”

Find out more about QuakeSmart and what you can do at flash.org/quakesmart, and consider joining FLASH and QuakeSmart for a free Earthquake 2014 Summit on Sept. 18 in Riverside, California or Oct. 30 in the San Francisco Bay Area. Visit www.earthquake2014summit.com for more information.