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#FLASH2014 Conference Recap Report – Gathering Revolutionizes Disaster Resilience

More than 175 leaders met in Orlando November 19-21 for the FLASH Annual Conference: Resilience Revolution where FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, NOAA Senior Leader Margaret Davidson, LT. General Russel L. Honoré, National Hurricane Center Director Dr. Rick Knabb, and The Weather Channel's Jim Cantore challenged and inspired attendees to realize disaster resilience opportunities. 

During the pre-conference Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) meeting, FLASH graduate scholarship winners presented their research findings on how to use building codes, construction technology, engineering, meteorology, risk communication and social psychology to advance disaster resilience. Also, partners and team members shared updates on key projects, including an overview by Clemson's Tripp Shealy of the new online Residential Building Code Course; an update on the Storm Shelter Pilot Program by Pastor Michael Stadie of Lutheran Disaster Services; and a presentation on Trends in Texas Residential Building Codes based on the research results of the Texas State Collaborative program by FLASH Sr. Policy Analyst Audrey Rierson.

During the opening Partnership Ceremony President and CEO Leslie Chapman-Henderson recognized Portland Cement Association as a new Legacy Partner and named longtime mitigation champion and new Board Member Eleanor Kitzman as a Leadership Partner. Cecil Pearce and Sandly Safley were recognized as board members of the year. Huber Engineered Woods, LLC joined the lineup of more than 120 FLASH organizational partners as well.

FLASH’s newest board member from BASF, Erika Peterman, opened the conference by sharing her personal Tropical Storm Allison experience and how it drives her passion for strengthening homes and safeguarding families from disasters of all kinds.

“Coming together to create solutions is exactly what FLASH and this conference are all about.” - Erika Peterman

NOAA’s Margaret Davidson observed that FLASH follows the lessons of Homer who understood that storytelling is the best way for information to reach people. She entertained and inspired the crowd with stories of resilience policy and made the case that government must work with the private sector to ensure success.

“Everyone will have to stretch past their comfort zone to advance the movement. Communities that have a strong civic network bounce back most quickly after a disaster." - Margaret Davidson

David Bonowitz, S.E., Jeremy Gregory, MIT, and Tripp Shealy, Clemson University, updated attendees on choice architecture, concrete sustainability, and rating systems on a panel entitled, Incorporating Resilience into Residential Construction. FLASH Board Member Mark Justman of Portland Cement Association moderated the dialogue on obstacles and opportunities in building rating systems, how to incorporate hazard resistance into life cycle cost analysis for residential buildings, and the groundbreaking work currently underway. 

Tripp Shealy offered “bundling” resilience building attributes as a potential solution and brought a millennial’s perspective, “How can we help people choose more resilient building options without having to go through a disaster first?”

Meteorologist Maureen McCann led Dr. Rick Knabb and Bermuda Weather Service Director Kimberly Zuill through a conversation about challenges and successes faced by the Bermudian Weather Service during the one-two punch from Tropical Storm Fay and Hurricane Gonzalo. Dr. Knabb outlined challenges in evacuation zone awareness and growing hurricane amnesia, and both made the case for keeping information simple by bundling public service messages.

Dr. Knabb demonstrated that while his iPhone can provide routine information, it is unable to help in a hurricane emergency. “Siri, am I in an evacuation zone? Sorry Rick, I don’t have an opinion about that.”

FLASH Board Member Dr. Forrest Masters moderated the panel, Before the Hammer – Designing Resilient Communities, where speakers explored ways to design resilient communities. Rose Geier Grant of State Farm introduced the new FLASH "Resilient Design Guide."  Michele Steinberg of NFPA focused on what is going right in wildfire disaster resilience programs. Dr. David O. Prevatt of University of Florida explained the "Dual-Objective-Based Tornado Design Philosophy" and its important role in improved building performance during tornadoes. Randy Shackelford, Simpson Strong-Tie detailed how building codes and stronger building practices are essential to ensure building performance.

“When we say, ‘we will rebuild’, what does that really mean? Does it mean we will rebuild again, or we will rebuild better?” - Dr. David O. Prevatt

LT. General Russel L. Honoré energized the room with his insights on disaster recovery and the need for personal responsibility and hyper-local action. He urged attendees to make change with three steps: build a team in every state and community; don’t be afraid to take on the impossible; and understand that we have to act even if we face adversity.

“We need to put our jobs on the line to save peoples’ lives. True leaders influencing change should expect to be criticized.” - Russel L. Honore

Bruce McCullen of McCullen Consulting and Board Member Joe Tankersley of Unique Visions led the conference through an exercise on how to simplify disaster safety and resilience messages by using Twitter. Attendees got the messages out in 140 characters or less under the #FLASH2014 hashtag.

@FederalAlliance Biggest takeaway of #FLASH2014? Take "again" off end of the sentence: "Let's make sure this devastation never happens." - Michele Steinberg @mrs_s92

FLASH Board Member George Drew of USAA led the panel, Taking Science to the Street, showcasing programs that bring complex information through to the public. Jennifer Sprague and Doug Hilderbrand of NOAA shared the Weather-Ready Nation initiative and the five major focus areas: impact-based decision support services, communications/outreach, science and technology advances, information delivery, and innovative partnerships. David Cummings of ISO introduced the second edition of the popular "Homeowners’ Insurance Guide to Natural Disasters" created by FLASH and The Actuarial Foundation. Mark Benthien of the Southern California Earthquake Center and Earthquake Country Alliance explained the research basis for the Great ShakeOut Earthquake Drills, and then led attendees through a practice earthquake drill. All of the audience took cover under tables to participate.

“I just did a one minute ShakeOut drill! Drop Cover and Hold On! Wow! My first earthquake drill. – Dr. David O. Prevatt -@davidprevatt2

The Keep Calm and Collaborate panel participants included FLASH Board Member Melanie Tydrich, Kohler; Natasha Aversano, USAA; Mark Taylor, Weather Decision Technologies; and Anna Alexopoulos, FLASH. The panelists detailed successful collaborative initiatives including the Great Hurricane Blowout, Great Winter Weather Party, the FLASH Weather Alerts App, National Preparedness Month, QuakeSmart, StormStruck: A Tale of Two Homes and the Texas State Collaborative.

“Many hands make light work. This saying is a simple yet powerful concept. If we pool together and collaborate we will be more effective, our combined voices will be louder and we will advance resilience.” - Natasha Aversano

Leadership Partner Jim Cantore brought his incomparable style and personal disaster experience to conduct an inspirational, riveting and moving interview about the Moore, Oklahoma tornado legacy that repeatedly devastated a community and forever changed its value for resilient building. Oklahoma State Representative Mark McBride and City of Moore Councilman Terry Cavnar captivated the conference with their firsthand accounts of the tornadoes, the losses, and their bold steps to better protect their residents. Attendees shared intermittent tears and laughter with the leaders as they learned how Moore enacted unprecedented high-wind building and construction codes and why the community and is now an international model for disaster resilience.

“To do nothing was unacceptable. We had to rebuild smarter.” – Terry Cavnar

How are volunteer organizations energizing the Resilience Revolution? Eric Nankervis, Points of Light; Russ Griffith, Habitat for Humanity; and Dale and Jean Peercy, Lutheran Disaster Response provided a “boots on the ground” perspective as some of the first responders to enter and the last to leave a disaster zone. Moderated by Tim Smail, FLASH, the panel outlined how volunteers provide tools to prepare families and protect homes; help communities identify risk and take action; and inspire others to make a meaningful difference. Attendees learned how the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster have teamed up with FLASH to build stronger homes and save lives through the long-term recovery process.

“All disasters are local. Therefore, it is important that as we integrate new methods for building back better, they are adaptable to the local long-term recovery process.” - Jean Peercy

New FLASH TAC Member Janiele Maffei, California Earthquake Authority, moderated the Insights from the Napa Earthquake Report where attendees enjoyed the first-look at critical post-event engineering findings. Ayse Hortacsu, Applied Technology Council, reported on the structural damage and Glenn Granholm, SAFE-T-PROOF addressed the non-structural damage. Attendees learned how structural and nonstructural mitigation must work together to make a difference in earthquake safety, building performance, and disaster recovery.

"One 1904 unreinforced masonry building not retrofitted by the owner caused the red-tagging of five adjacent buildings (businesses) due to potential collapse and falling masonry safety concerns." Ayse Hortacsu describing the interdependent relationship of buildings and resilience in seismic zones.

“Fifteen dollars of straps could have saved a life in the Napa Earthquake.” - Glenn Granholm

Are building codes and standards delivering on its promise of disaster resilience? FLASH Board Member Phil Burton, Simpson Strong –Tie, led the panel discussion, The Foundation for Resilience: Building Codes – It’s the Least We Can DoEd Laatsch, FEMA Building Science Branch discussed the FEMA "Losses Avoided Study" and how that information will serve as a valuable tool for those in the disaster-resilience movement. Steve Szoke of Portland Cement Association addressed how stronger codes are crucial for more resilient communities. Scott McDonald of the City of Amarillo detailed his experiences on the ground as a building official in an exemplary building community. And Sara Yerkes of the International Code Council addressed the many benefits and potential opportunities in the realm of building codes.

"Building codes need to go beyond saving lives, to protecting livelihoods" - Steve Szoke

The final keynote speaker, FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, brought his hallmark no-nonsense leadership style to inspire attendees with his perspective on the disaster resilience movement and how each individual can make a meaningful difference. He detailed the FEMA commitment to changing disaster outcomes and challenged the crowd by asking;  “Are we building for the future or to past knowledge?” Fugate made the case for using the best new data available to raise standards, asked everyone to move past old ways, and cited public-private collaboration as one of the best ways to make America safer from disasters.

“How do we build back to the future?” - Craig Fugate

After Administrator Fugate’s address, John McDermott summed up his conference impression, “It reminded me of the 1927 Conference of atomic physicists in Brussels. A who's who of brilliant thinkers that changed the world that we live in now. We have the ability to do the same. If not in our lifetime, in the future.” 

View the conference photoshow on the FLASH Facebook page, and enjoy the conference recap video here.

A special thank you to our 2014 Sponsors: Allstate, BASF – The Chemical Company, Energy Pro Exchange (EPX), Huber Engineered Woods LLC, Kohler, Co. International Code Council, Lehigh Hanson, PGT Industries, SAFE-T-PROOFSimpson Strong-Tie Co., StormStruck: A Tale of Two Homes, Texas Office of Public Insurance Counsel, and The Home Depot.

Save the date for the next FLASH Annual Conference – FLASH Back to the Future – The Next Generation of Resilience in Orlando from  January 27-29, 2016. Email Barbara Harrison or call (850) 385-7233 for sponsorship information, and watch for updates on the next call for papers on flashannualconference.org