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FLASH 2014: Revelations around resilience

Recently, ISO Community Mitigation manager Ralph Dorio and I attended the 2014 FLASH Annual Conference in Orlando, Florida. FLASH, the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes, is one of the country’s leading nonprofit consumer advocates for strengthening homes and safeguarding families from natural and man-made disasters. The organization focuses on innovation, integrity, and collaboration, and ISO is a partner member.

This year, the theme for the conference was “Resilience Revolution.” It’s difficult to find another event where the insurance industry, government entities like the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the National Weather Service (NWS), and the United States Geological Survey (USGS), private researchers (such as BASF), and academia all come together to discuss and network around the common theme of resilience. This made the FLASH event very valuable to attendees, and some diverse topics and programs made it very rewarding.

One of the key issues at the event was encouraging people to focus on disaster preparation. How do you get the general public to invest in hurricane straps and safe rooms in lieu of granite countertops and built-in appliances when they construct new homes or retrofit existing ones? It’s not an easy task. Panelists discussed the issue in relation to resilience messaging to consumers, engineering, legislation and regulations, atmospheric and seismologic research, and the use of social media.

Margaret Davidson, senior leader of Coastal Inundation and Resilience from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), was the keynote speaker. She discussed misconceptions — or rather misinterpretations — about climate change and its effect on society, with a focus on coastal regions. She certainly had a hold on the audience, combining a Texas-born bravado with scientific professionalism in an easy-to-comprehend message.

There was a panel discussion on the need for resiliency rating systems that are easy to understand. Participants explored the psychology of how the public interprets information and how engineers and architects can refine the messaging. The conference also recognized successful awareness campaigns such as Habitat for Humanity and Lutheran Disaster Response. Both are volunteer organizations that pool knowledge and resources to build safe, strong, and sustainable homes.

Representative Mark McBride (R – Oklahoma House of Representatives) and Councilman Terry Cavnar of Moore, Oklahoma, told a moving but troubling story. Catastrophic tornadoes have hit Moore twice in the past 15 years, most recently in May 2013. Besieged townspeople have changed their philosophy on tornadoes from “It won’t happen to me” to “Could it happen to me again?” and finally to “When will it happen to me again?” In a proactive response to the situation, the town adopted enhanced residential building codes in April 2014 that require building structures to withstand 135 mph winds (the old standard was 90 mph). McBride pointed out, however, that neighboring communities opted against adopting those standards, and the codes are limited to new residential construction only.

Other noteworthy speakers included Dr. Rick Knabb, director of the National Hurricane Center (NHC); Lieutenant General Russell L. Honoré of the U.S. Army; Craig Fugate, FEMA administrator; and Jim Cantore from The Weather Channel.

I encourage everyone to learn more about FLASH as a conduit for education on building safer, sustainable homes. The organization is a great resource for potential partnering and knowledge sharing on community resilience.

Zack Schmiesing

Zack Schmiesing is the director of thought leadership at Verisk Commercial Property.

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