Tell Us How to Make It Better

Are You Ready for Hurricane Season?

May 24, 2022 George Siegal Season 1 Episode 39
Tell Us How to Make It Better
Are You Ready for Hurricane Season?
Show Notes Transcript

May 24, 2022
39. Are You Ready for Hurricane Season?

Hurricane season starts on June 1st, are you ready? While making our documentary film The Last House Standing, we interviewed several experts who have great advice for you. Advice ranges from what you should be thinking about when choosing where to live, to things you can do to make your home safer and protect your family. There is something everybody can do to improve their chances in a major disaster. For the first ten people that click the link below to rent the film, it’s available to watch for free. Use the promo code: hurricane special (all lowercase).

Here are some important moments from the podcast:

At 3:01 Brock Long talks about important lessons we should learn from past disasters.

At 6:26 Roy Wright discusses things everyone should be doing when choosing a place to live.

At 12:16 Aris Papadopoulos talks about ways to build with resilience in mind that are also cost-effective.

You can learn about the documentary film The Last House Standing at this link: https://www.thelasthousestanding.org 

Here’s a link to rent the film: https://www.thelasthousestanding.org/movie

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Roy Wright:

You need to understand what your flood risk is, your proximity to storm surge, what can happen from a wind perspective, whether that's tornadoes or hurricanes or some kind of straight line wind, as well as wildfire. And you need to be aware of it because it gives you the basis to do good planning.

George Siegal:

I'm George Siegal and this is the Tell Us How to Make It Better podcast. Every week, we introduce you to people who are working on real world problems and providing actual solutions. Tell Us How to Make It Better is partnering with The Readiness Lab, the home for podcasts, webinars, and training in the field of emergency and disaster services. Thank you for joining me for today's special episode of the Tell Us How to Make It Better. Podcast. Hurricane season is right around, and it should be a strong reminder to everyone that there are certain things you should be doing right now to prepare. I made a documentary film called the The Last House Standing. There's a link in the show notes for you to watch the film. It's about how we blindly make choices where to live and what we live in without truly understanding the risks involved. And every year when a hurricane, wildfire, tornado or earthquake hits, we pay for those mistakes. During the course of making the film and in the time afterwards, I've had the great fortune to interview experts in the disaster field. I want to share some of those interviews with you in this podcast, highlighting things they said that you should pay attention to and be doing something about right now. One of the toughest guests to get when we were making the film was FEMA director Brock Long. He's now the executive chairman at Haggerty Consulting. We traveled to Washington DC to interview him, and he had a lot of important things to share with us. At the time we did the interview, FEMA was dealing with a major disaster that hit the Florida Gulf coast category five, hurricane Michael.

Brock Long:

Anything that was built largely before the 2001 Florida building code was definitely knocked out. And what you also saw in Mexico beach, is it that the houses were not elevated to handle a category three, four, or five, almost a five land falling storm. And the one or two houses that did survive were properly elevated, but they were also wind mitigated. And in that area, a lot of people believe that because hurricanes are classified by when that that's what they need to protect, protect themselves from. But ultimately the most damaging hazard associated with a hurricane is storm surge, it's the ocean rising it's wind driven water that rises to great heights. And so we saw you know, 13, 14, 15 feet of ocean water rise and literally knock homes down and push them back in, you know, far inland and wipe out the community. The reason we don't learn that lesson about storm surge is because those who failed to typically evacuate and heed the warning for evacuation and experienced storm surge. Don't live to tell about it.

George Siegal:

Now, what should people who live in coastal areas and other parts of the country, there's places that probably have never seen a hurricane just like that. What should they learn about this most recent disaster?

Brock Long:

Regardless of where you live, you need to do a risk assessment, get to know your local emergency management agency director, understand the risks that are associated with your community. Along the coast, you got to understand whether or not you reside in a storm surge, vulnerable area. You need to take a look at the house to see if it's constructed for, for different levels or categories of wind that are there. And then you, you have to be properly insured. Insurance is the first line of defense. FEMA's individual assistance program, if you are uninsured and lose your house is not going to make you whole, it is designed to kickstart recovery. The first line of defense is insurance, and if you're insured, you will, you will be on the road and pathway to recovery. Comprehensive recovery will much, much quicker than if you're depending on the federal emergency management agencies, individual assistance programs.

George Siegal:

If someone builds in a flood area or lives in a flood area and their property gets destroyed, are they allowed or should they be allowed to rebuild it the way it was before it was destroyed?

Brock Long:

You know, and this is, this is a moral hazard. It should, the federal government and the taxpayers continue to rebuild communities to the same pre disaster? I don't believe that we should. I think that Mexico Beach has a real opportunity. The Mexico beaches of the world that have been through this have a real opportunity to set the example of how to be a resilient coastal community going forward. And ultimately it will benefit them. Yes, I believe that that people will come in and rebuild, but let's just hope that they do it to a much higher standard to prevent this from happening again.

George Siegal:

Roy Wright is the CEO of the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety. One of the questions we asked him was how important is it to really put some thought into where you are buying or renting?

Roy Wright:

Yeah, I think any time you are choosing a place where your family is going to live, you need to do it with your eyes wide open. You need to be focused on what those risks can be. Clearly this plays out from a homeowners perspective because that's a long-term investment and often the greatest asset that any American family has, but it's also true in terms of what you can lose in terms of possessions as a renter. You need to understand what your flood risk is. Your proximity to storm surge. What can happen from a wind perspective, whether that's tornadoes or hurricanes or some kind of straight line wind, as well as wildfire. And you need to be aware of it because it gives you the basis to do good planning. And let's talk about that for a moment because when you have a choice about where to live you can take all of those factors into place and maybe you'll choose one house over another, but for many American families, there's not a lot of choosing to do. We watch houses that are passed down from generation to generation. You look at a central part of North Carolina, Lumberton, the areas outside of Fayetteville. They were hit by Matthew and again by Florence they had wind impact on the roofs. They had flooding that played out as well. Many of those homes, maybe a majority of those homes were legacy homes that have been passed down from generation to generation. They didn't make an active choice about where to live. In many instances, most Americans are living proximate to family, school, and jobs.

George Siegal:

So we asked Roy, what are some of the things everyone should be doing when choosing a place to live?

Roy Wright:

You start by having conversations with neighbors and realtors. I think that kind of story is always the best place to start. You can then turn to online tools. There are great ways to see wildfire hazards and flood hazard online that will help inform that, but you want to have those conversations and you particularly want to have those conversations with people who've been in the community for 20, 30, even 50 years. You see how far that can go back? Those storylines feed a whole. There are a set of, as I said, a whole lot of online kinds of pieces. But you gotta be looking for it in order to put those into motion. I look forward to a moment where some of these more online real estate tools begin to package that all together so that when the pictures come up of the pretty dining room in the apartment and the countertops and the restroom, and the balcony or the school, you're seeing that kind of information at the exact same time. That's where we need to be at, as it goes forward.

George Siegal:

Joseph Barbera is an associate professor at George Washington University, and he's also the lead professor in the crisis emergency and risk management program at the university. He knows a great deal about risks and says, you need to understand what the risks are when you choose a place to live.

Joseph Barbera:

So, what I would tell people is that you should look very closely at what the actual risk is, where you've decided to live. And especially before you decided to live there, or if you have some if you have some influence on a home that's being built, et cetera because there's a lot of things that one can do to address some critical elements of the risk. So I, I think with a hurricane recognize what that risk is and be prepared to evacuate. And, and that's important, but if you're going to decide to live in a box canyon in a wildfire area where the only way out is downhill with a likely fire moving rapidly uphill there might be nothing the options to act evacuate. And once you're really. I think a lot about that before you decided to live there. So part of this is, again, what, what's your risk tolerance? You as an individual and you as a family, when you decide where you're going to live or what you're going to do about renovating or or what else you might do to reduce risk. So I think when you really should look at the vulnerabilities and then stratify them. So know highest priority is life safety things for you and your family. What, what, what can kill you and what can cause life-threatening and long-term injury. And, and, and we should be able to be comfortable that we've addressed those types of things from my perspective. And then it's you know, Residents and property, what can I afford to lose without total financial ruin? And and what can I do about it if I'm still going to live there, because there are many interventions that can be done. Eh in any of these risks situations, it can reduce the consequences if the hazard does occur.

George Siegal:

Professor Barbera used an emergency management expression that ended up on our film poster. And to me really sums up the problem with getting people properly prepared. People want to believe that it won't happen to them.

Joseph Barbera:

You're rolling the dice. If you choose to live there, do nothing about the risk and in, in just hope, right? I mean, one of the shades in emergency management is hope is not a strategy.

George Siegal:

One of the people featured in the film that was a wealth of great information is Aris Papadopoulos . He's the founding chair of the resilience action fund and the author of the book Resilience the ultimate sustainability. Aris tells it like it is when summing up the construction industry, focusing on the fact, the consumer really has no idea what they're getting when buying a house.

Aris Papadopoulos:

It all boils down to economics. If things are made more vulnerable, it's cheaper. And if it's cheaper and the customer's not willing to pay more for a resilient home, there's more profit. So it's all driven by profit.

George Siegal:

But it seems like if you got it right the first time, if somebody said, look, I want a more resilient home, they would spare themselves so much grief when we see what happens in these disasters.

Aris Papadopoulos:

The truth is that if people knew how important having a resilient home is and would value it, they definitely would be better off. Their investment would be protected their possessions would be protected and more importantly, their lives and that of their families would be protected. We need a system that has more longer term liability for built for purpose. In other words, when a home is built, it's not good enough to be built to code. It should be built to withstand the local hazards. And most of those local hazards are really known to us. So I think the legal system needs to adapt to a higher standard of responsibility I call it, and a liability perhaps. But definitely you know, accountability to hold the builder, building community, to hold permitting officials, to hold the engineers and architects to a performance standard.

George Siegal:

What do you think about the idea of restricting land ownership near the ocean? For example, not let people build in vulnerable areas, make them make better decisions.

Aris Papadopoulos:

I think that's an important question that we have to ask ourselves. In other words, where is the vulnerability so high that we should not be developing? Because when we develop in risky areas, it's not just that person there that is taking on that responsibility it's the community that takes on the responsibility. So it's a liability for many more people for society.

George Siegal:

Are there ways to build with resilience in mind that are also cost-effective? Can you have both?

Aris Papadopoulos:

Well, I think we've demonstrated that here in south Florida. We've been building for decades to standards much higher than the rest of the country in terms of wind a hundred seventy five hundred eighty miles an hour. And we found efficient ways to do it. The, the industry needs to go through innovation through a learning process and through a cost curve process in order to get there. The car industry did this decades ago with car safety. Initially, they said, well, we can't meet those standards. We don't know the solutions they're going to be expensive and the consumers won't want them. Well, guess what? They innovatid. They went down the cost curves. They brought down the cost of those solutions and today's consumers would not do without the safety standards we have in cars, even if we invited them to save money by taking them out.

George Siegal:

At this point, it's not likely you're going to be able to completely change your house for hurricane season, but there are a few things you can do that will make a difference if a disaster strikes. First, check your insurance policy and make sure you have the right type of coverage, ask your insurance agent to explain it to you. That is their job. Look into getting a flood insurance policy. If you don't live in a designated flood zone, it's more affordable than you might think. Now there's a 30 day waiting period for it to become active. So don't wait until the last minute to get this. Also go around your house and take pictures of all your stuff and store them somewhere safe in the cloud. If you get hit by a disaster, having those could make the difference between having your claim paid or not. It can also be valuable to have your home inspected, to know what the vulnerabilities are. And if there's a way to fix them. I encourage everyone to do something. Doing nothing is a recipe for a worse disaster. If you liked what you were listening to today, please subscribe to the podcast on whatever platform you're listening on. Share the link and leave a review if you can. There's also a link to our contact form in the show notes. If you have any suggestions for future guests or comments about the show you just were listening to, I would love to hear from you. Thanks again for joining me today on the Tell Us How to Make It Better podcast. See you next time.