Disaster Safety Movement Better Armed to Serve Its Constituents Following Federal Alliance for Safe Homes® 2011 Annual Meeting

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Foremost experts in disaster safety and severe weather share best practices, insights and innovations

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“It’s often said that natural disasters are man-made – our fragilities are directly related to how well or unwell our built environment performs in critical times,” said Craig W. Tillman, President, WeatherPredict Consulting Inc.

With the theme, Disaster Safety: One Movement, Many Voices, more than 100 of the nation’s leading experts in disaster safety, property loss mitigation and weather outcomes met last week at the 2011 Annual Meeting of the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes® (FLASH) in Lake Buena Vista, FL.

FLASH kicked off the meeting with the unveiling of five new scholarships toward higher education in disaster mitigation. For the next three years, one $1,500 annual scholarship will be awarded to master and doctorate-degree students for various areas of study related to disaster mitigation including risk management, structural engineering and construction, financial services, meteorology and social science.

Craig W. Tillman, President of WeatherPredict Consulting Inc., presented the report, “Impact 2011: Examining a Year of Catastrophes through the Lens of Resiliency,” which outlined how improving the world’s resiliency to severe weather and natural disasters depends on how well we integrate our built environment with our natural one.

“It’s often said that natural disasters are man-made – our fragilities are directly related to how well or unwell our built environment performs in critical times,” Tillman said. “This report provides a platform for recognizing common themes and, ultimately, a framework to understand how resilience can work to improve communities worldwide.”

Experts on flood, wildfire, hurricane and earthquake safety described the latest resources available to educate families about disaster preparedness and mitigation. Panel members included representatives of ShakeOut, FloodSmart, FEMA, National Earthquake Hazard Reduction Program (NEHRP), the FLASH Great Hurricane Blowout and the Savannah River National Laboratory (SRNL) – which will soon release an assessment tool for homeowners to evaluate their own wildfire risk and learn how to mitigate hazards.

“Homes that don’t ignite don’t burn,” said Monica Phillips, Mechanical Engineer, Research and Development Engineering Directorate, SRNL. “Our new Wildfire Wizard software tool allows the user to learn how to protect ignition of a home if a wildfire comes through.”

In the first of three keynote addresses, Craig Fugate, Administrator of FEMA, said that mitigation resiliency is becoming as important to emergency management as it is to protect, prepare for, respond to and recover from national hazards.

“We’re putting mitigation back into the lexicon of how we protect the nation from hazards,” Fugate said. “This is important to building a truly resilient nation. If you’re resilient, you have a credible response to disaster that allows for quick recovery.”

Fugate said a national mitigation framework would be more systemic and would look at those things that could be done at the front end – before disaster strikes – rather than after the fact.

A tornado safe room was among the latest in disaster safety products featured at the FLASH Innovations in Product Technologies Showcase. Visitors to the showcase also had a chance to meet and discuss firsthand with Kevin and Sarabeth Harrison of Athens, AL, their frightening tale how their custom-made tornado safe room saved them and their two children from a direct hit by a killer tornado last April. Photographs have been seen all over the world of the Harrison family emerging from their safe room amid total destruction immediately after the tornado passed.

Social media experts from USAA, the Salvation Army and FEMA described how they’re leveraging web-based technologies to successfully communicate with their audiences. Kevin Smith, Director of Emergency Disaster Services for the Salvation Army discussed how his organization uses social media to communicate in times of crisis response and recovery.

“From an emergency management perspective, failing to be engaged in social media today will inhibit your ability to perform in a disaster,” said Smith. But social media presence alone isn’t enough, Smith said, adding that it’s also important to measure impact across the web, utilizing one of the several services available online that measures influence. “If you don’t know what your footprint is you’re probably not engaged.”

Top researchers and engineers provided a preview of the most recent advancements and research shaping disaster preparedness. Among them was Jay Baker, PhD, Geography Department, Florida State University, who spoke of his studies on how and why the public responds to hurricane threats.

“Our current research involves interviews with coastal residents during actual hurricane threats and surveys to help understand how people arrive at their beliefs regarding their vulnerability to hurricanes,” said Dr. Baker, who is currently assisting Florida to update its behavioral assumptions for hurricane evacuation plans statewide.

In a second keynote address, Elizabeth Hausler, PhD, Founder and CEO of the non-profit social enterprise Build Change, said earthquakes don’t kill people; poorly built buildings do.

“The three main challenges to building safe houses in developing countries are technology, money and people,” Dr. Hausler said. “Earthquake-resistant construction will become common if the technology is widely known, available and culturally accepted,” she added.

A final panel discussion involved recent government policies and programs having the biggest impact on the disaster safety movement. Steven Cooper, Deputy Regional Director of the National Weather Service (NWS), spoke of the Weather-Ready Nation campaign to save lives and improve preparedness during extreme weather conditions.

“Why build a weather-ready nation?” Cooper asked. “This past year, we’ve had 10 billion-dollar weather events – hurricanes, tornadoes, drought, wildfires, flooding and blizzards. A weather-ready nation will enhance community resilience; empower Americans to make faster, smarter and life-saving decisions; transform response to extreme weather; and save more lives and livelihoods.”

Closing remarks were made by Bill Read, Director of NOAA’s National Hurricane Center (NHC), who provided an update on hurricane activity this current season, with a special focus on Hurricane Irene. He also discussed NHC’s efforts to expand its forecasts and provide more useful information regarding storm surges to help people better understand their vulnerabilities to hurricanes.

“Our mission is to save lives, mitigate property loss, and improve economic efficiency by issuing the best watches, warnings, forecasts and analyses of hazardous tropical weather, and by increasing understanding of these hazards,” Read said.

“Bringing together the industry’s most influential and talented minds to share best practices is essential to making America and our world more disaster-resilient,” said Leslie Chapman-Henderson, President and CEO of FLASH.

About FLASH

Federal Alliance for Safe Homes® (FLASH), a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, is the country’s leading consumer advocate for strengthening homes and safeguarding families from natural and manmade disasters. FLASH collaborates with more than 100 innovative and diverse partners that share its vision of making America a more disaster-resistant nation including: BASF, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Florida Division of Emergency Management, The Home Depot®, International Code Council, Kohler Power Systems, National Weather Service, RenaissanceRe, Simpson Strong-Tie®, State Farm®, USAA® and WeatherPredict Consulting Inc. In 2008, FLASH opened the interactive weather experience StormStruck: A Tale of Two Homes® in Lake Buena Vista, FL. Learn more about FLASH and gain access to its free consumer resources by visiting http://www.flash.org or calling (877) 221-SAFE (7233). Also, get timely safety tips to ensure that you and your family are always well protected from natural and manmade disasters by subscribing to the FLASH blog – Protect Your Home in a FLASH.

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Susan Schneider
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