Floridians Reminded to Rebuild with Mitigation in Mind

January 10, 2006

As Floridians make resolutions for the New Year, disaster recovery officials urge them to include in their plans to rebuild – or build – their homes safer and stronger to lessen the impact of future hurricanes.

Implementing mitigation measures now can reap savings in time and money after a hurricane, according to officials from the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Florida’s State Emergency Response Team (SERT).

Hurricanes produce two primary damaging forces: high winds and flooding. Some measures to reduce the damage resulting from water and high winds are fairly simple and inexpensive; others will require a professional contractor licensed to work in your state, county or city. The Disaster Contractors Network, www.DCNonline.org, connects contractors and vendors offering services in the aftermath of Hurricane Wilma with homeowners and business owners seeking repairs.

It is important to ensure that any work meets current state and local building code standards. Exceeding the requirements of the building code with a “code plus” approach to rebuilding increases the disaster resistance of one’s house and decreases the chance of major structural damage from wind or water. For more detailed information, talk to a professional home builder, architect, contractor or building supply retailer.

The Federal Alliance for Safe Homes – FLASH Inc. – is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting disaster safety, property protection and economic well being by strengthening homes and safeguarding families from natural and manmade disasters. Its Web site is www.flash.org. It features animations that guide a homeowner or builder step by step through the latest tested and approved mitigation techniques for the home, including improvements to the roof, walls and windows; FLASH Cards, which provide accurate disaster-safety information covering 20 topics (including hurricanes and flooding safety) and are available in English and Spanish; and ordering information for the FLASH One-Stop Resource Guide, which provides concise safety information in a compact format for consumers.

Affiliated with FLASH is Blueprint for Safety, a comprehensive training program designed for building professionals. This program, whose Web site is www.blueprintforsafety.org, teaches professionals about the latest disaster-resistant techniques and products.

FEMA’s How To series can be viewed, downloaded and printed from its Web site by logging onto www.fema.gov/fima/how2.shtm or individuals may order copies by calling 1-800-480-2520. The series features illustrated guides about topics, some of which are mentioned below, such as reinforcing garage doors and anchoring fuel tanks.

The following are some general suggestions for rebuilding safer and stronger; more detailed information can be found at the resources listed above. However, strengthening measures are still no guarantee that a home will not be damaged or even destroyed by a hurricane. Residents should evacuate immediately if told to do so by authorities.

Opening Protection
One of the most effective ways to reduce damage to your home is to install protection on the home’s openings (windows, skylights and doors), such as impact-resistant windows and doors and/or storm shutters. Purchase or make shutters for all exposed windows, glass surfaces, French doors, sliding glass doors and skylights. Typical types of manufactured storm shutters include wood, aluminum and steel. Ensure shutters are installed following the manufacturer’s guidelines.

Roof Bracing
Roof failures, especially in unbraced gable roofs, are a common cause of major damage to houses and their contents in high winds. Check to see whether the roof framing is braced. If you are unsure whether the roof is adequately braced, check with your local building department. After inspecting your roof framing, a building official can tell you whether bracing is required and if so, how it should be added.

Exterior doors should be wind and impact resistant or protected with an impact-resistant covering. Many houses are equipped with double entry doors. Because double entry doors span a wider opening than a single door, they are usually not as strong as a single door and are more susceptible to wind damage. Add a heavy-duty deadbolt or replace the existing deadbolt with a stronger one, add side bolts at the top and bottom of the inactive door, and replace the existing hinge attachment screws, in both the doors and the door frame, with longer screws that extend further into the door’s frame.

Garage Doors
Garage doors can pose problems during hurricanes because they are so large that they wobble in high winds. Winds can pull garage doors out of their tracks or make them collapse. If garage doors fail, high winds can enter the home and blow out doors, windows, walls – even the roof. A garage door can be reinforced by adding girts across the back of the door and by strengthening the glider wheel tracks. Hardware and home supply stores, as well as companies that specialize in overhead door sales and installation, can advise you about stronger doors and track systems.

Flooding is the most common and costliest natural disaster and often accompanies hurricanes. Residents can inquire about the projected flood elevation for their neighborhood during a major flooding event. Good places to start are local building departments, flood plain management offices or emergency management offices.

Raising Electrical System Components
Electrical system components, including service panels, meters, switches and outlets, are easily damaged by floodwater. If they are inundated for even short periods, they may require replacement. The potential for fires caused by short circuits in flooded systems creates another serious problem. Raising electrical system components helps avoid these problems. Having an undamaged electrical system after a flood helps you clean up, make repairs and return to your home with fewer delays. All components of the electrical system, including the wiring, should be raised at least one foot above the 100-year flood level. In an existing house, this work will require the removal of some interior wall sheathing (drywall, for example). Electrical system modifications must be done by a licensed contractor, who will ensure that the work is done correctly and according to all applicable codes.

Elevating Appliances
Appliances such as washers and dryers should be located at least 12 inches above the projected flood elevation. Washers and dryers can sometimes be elevated on masonry or pressure-treated lumber; such appliances can also be moved to a higher floor.

Raising HVAC
Heating, ventilating and cooling (HVAC) equipment, such as a furnace or hot water heater, can be damaged extensively if inundated by floodwaters. The amount of damage will depend on the depth of the flooding and the amount of time the equipment remains under water. Exterior HVAC equipment should be elevated at least 12 inches above your home’s projected flood elevation. A good way to protect interior HVAC equipment is to move it from the basement or lower level of the house to an upper floor or even the attic. Relocation may involve plumbing and electrical changes and requires the skills of a professional contractor.

Anchor Fuel Tanks
Unanchored fuel tanks can be easily moved by flood waters. These tanks pose serious threats to your family, your house, public safety and the environment. An unanchored tank can be driven into your walls and can be swept downstream where it can damage other houses. When an unanchored tank in your basement is moved by flood waters, the supply line can tear free and your basement can be contaminated by oil. Even a buried tank can be pushed to the surface by the buoyant effect of soil saturated by water. One way to anchor a tank both inside and outside your house is to attach it to a large concrete slab whose weight is great enough to resist the force of flood waters. Be sure all filling and ventilation tubes are above the 100-year flood level so that flood waters cannot enter the tank. For safety’s sake, consult with local officials and building professionals about the best methods of anchoring fuel tanks in your area.

Install Sewer Backflow Valves
Flooding can cause sewage from sanitary sewer lines to back up into houses through drain pipes. These backups not only cause damage that is difficult to repair but also can create health hazards. Backflow valves are designed to block drain pipes temporarily and prevent flow into the house. Backflow valves are available in a variety of designs that range from the simple to the complex and should be installed by a licensed plumber or contractor.

Flood Insurance
Homeowners insurance policies do not cover flooding. To alleviate the financial devastation caused by flooding, Congress created the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) in 1968. The NFIP, overseen by FEMA, enables homeowners, business owners and renters to purchase federally backed flood insurance. Flood insurance is easy to obtain and is sold by most insurance agents.

Homeowners and business owners are eligible to purchase flood insurance if their community is among the more than 20,000 communities that participates in the NFIP. Participating communities agree to adopt and enforce floodplain management ordinances to reduce future flood damage. Mortgage lenders may require prospective home buyers to purchase flood insurance if the home is located in a floodplain.

The average premium for a yearly flood insurance policy is around $450. It takes 30 days after purchase for a policy to take effect. The waiting period is waived if the consumer is obtaining, increasing, extending or renewing a federally backed loan for the property.

Residents can visit www.FloodSmart.gov or call 1-800-427-2419 to learn their risk of flooding, how to prepare for floods, how to purchase a National Flood Insurance Policy and about the benefits of protecting homes and property against flooding.

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