Mitigation 360º – FLASH 2013 Annual Conference

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Last week, Firestorm’s COO and President Jim Satterfield was invited to present on a panel for the 2013 FLASH Annual Conference. The non-profit Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH®) is the country’s leading consumer advocate for strengthening homes and safeguarding families from natural and manmade disasters.

Firestorm Expert Council member John Plodinec of the Community and Regional Resilience Institute (CARRI) attended as well, and shares his impressions of the event. The goal of the Community and Regional Resilience Institute (CARRI) is to strengthen any community or region’s ability to prepare for, respond to, and rapidly recover from significant human caused or natural disaster with minimal downtime for the community

by John Plodinec

JohnPlodinecLast week, I got a refresher course in enthusiasm by attending FLASH’s 2013 Annual Conference.  This day-and-a-half event is always a highlight of my late fall.  Leslie Chapman-Henderson, Tim Smail and the rest of their crew put on a great program that as always energized the participants and imparted lots of good information.

Thanks to Tim, I had the chance to sit in on presentations made by several students sponsored by FLASH.  While the work was excellent, what really got me excited was the quality and the professionalism of the kids.  Their commitment to excellence was outstanding and indicates that the future of “the mitigation movement” is in good hands.

A few highlights – and thoughts – from the meeting…

Student presentations:

•  Michael Grayson (Clemson U) gave a good talk about a Building Envelope Failure Assessment model he has developed.  Ultimately this model may provide valuable insights to both residents and insurers about the real risks each faces.  Insurers may then be able to provide real incentives to individual homeowners.  May not be successful, but there is nobility in the attempt (and the model itself seems useful).

•  Audra Kiesling (UF) working with Tim Smail has developed a StormStruck curriculum for middle school students.  It has been tested in a few schools and looks very promising.  This needs to get in front of the Department of Education – it could have the same impact as programs touting seatbelt use did decades ago.  Audra is an interesting anomaly – a Ph.D. civil engineering student with a real passion for this educational endeavor.

•  Jenny Marceron (GWU) talked about her work on emergency preparedness and self-efficacy.  She is working toward an “efficacy scale” for identifying groups or individuals at risk of being inadequately prepared.  One of the interesting aspects of the meeting was FLASH’s very apparent growing support for social scientists – a good forward-looking move.

Audrey Rierson gave a quick introduction to FLASH’s work on Texas building codes.  FLASH is comparing the codes from several cities and counties against the International Residential Code to determine whether the codes actually in use provide minimum essential protections.  She used the city of Houston and Harris County as an example, showing pieces of the analysis and recommendations for both additions and deletions.  A closing panel was focused on codes.

There were two panels that centered on communications.  One looked at how to get the mitigation message out to both Millenials and Baby Boomers.  Millenials rely much more on social media; Boomers are more heavily weighted toward traditional print and broadcast media.  Messaging also should be somewhat different because of the experiential divide between the two.

CantoriThe other panel looked at how the print and broadcast media – both local and national – deliver the message.  The panel hammered home the message of being visual and immediate.  The broadcast media representatives, especially Jim Cantore of the Weather Channel, pointed out that broadcasters glean information and even content (e.g., videos) from social media thus providing viewers with much more rapid – and compelling – information about an emerging event than has ever been possible before.  In a very real sense, the Weather Channel (and other broadcasters) has become YouTube for Baby Boomers who aren’t on social media.

Personally, I am a little concerned about the focus on social media and the mitigation message.  The media reps deftly sidestepped a question about whom they are actually reaching.  Further, we need to know more about the demographics of homeowners (this is something I’m going to look into).  The futurists I read are telling us that the Millenials are more likely to live in compact city dwellings – apartments or condos – rather than standalone single-family homes.  While the mitigation message to them needs to be delivered via social media, the experience in Sandy indicates that there are special problems related to apartments in particular.  We may need a new message for these.  Conversely if, as I suspect, homeownership is skewed toward those who either don’t have the time or the inclination or the aptitude for social media, then the message needs to be delivered in another way.  In both cases, though, we need to begin to follow whether people are taking action rather than how often we are dispensing the message, i.e., evaluate communication not dissemination.

Our friend Jim Satterfield from Firestorm participated in an interesting panel on “Breaking the Chain Reaction” – looking at the cascading events that can arise from an initial trigger.  Jim spoke from the standpoint of continuity but also eloquently spoke of the need for individuals to be ready to act.  Melanie Tydrich of Kohler provided several examples of the cascading impacts of loss of power in a residential setting.

I also learned a new word – Verbund.  Bill McCullen of BASF introduced this concept as a central tenet of how BASF does business and a potentially different way to think about mitigation.  Verbund – interconnected or bound in German – simply represents the interdependencies tying businesses, people, and infrastructure together and the idea that they must all be integrated.

There was much more:  Mike Holmes’ (Holmes on Homes) video appearance, Bill Read’s talk on emerging trends, a rousing reprise of FLASH’s first fifteen years (FLASH’s early Public Service Announcements were hysterical), the new Tale of Two Homes from Hurricane Sandy, the “Innovation Advantage” panel, Pat Durland on new approaches from insurers on wildfires; I even enjoyed Bryan Koon’s opening remarks about the drivers for and barriers to mitigation.  As always, an energizing experience.  

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