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Home safety in a FLASH.

Floridians well know the destruction that hurricanes can cause. For too long, however, many residents have believed that a certain amount of damage from hurricanes is inevitable; that the best they can do is endure and rebuild. This belief is misguided--and dangerous. As Florida enters the most active part of the hurricane season, now is the time for residents to focus on how they can better protect their homes, families, and finances from potential disaster.

Research shows that many homeowners are in a state of denial when it comes to their vulnerability to hurricanes. According to a recent Mason-Dixon poll, 83 percent of residents in hurricane-prone areas are insufficiently prepared for hurricane season. Talk to a person who has experienced a storm firsthand, however, and the story changes. The experience delivers a large dose of reality and usually inspires action.

The Federal Alliance for Safe Homes, Inc. (FLASH) found a way for residents to experience the power and destructive capability of a severe weather event without suffering the devastating real-life consequences. StormStruck: A Tale of Two Homes[R] at INNOVENTIONS[R] at Epcot[R] features a spectacular, simulated, 4-D weather experience that combines a variety of weather hazards into one "perfect storm." Along with the storm experience, guests learn about cutting edge scientific research and new construction technologies that can protect their homes. Created in conjunction with sponsors Renaissance Re, Simpson Strong Tie, and State Farm, StormStruck is a compelling example of the important role that insurers, underwriters, and product manufacturers can play in motivating people to take action.

Play Together, Learn Together

At the exhibit, guests are treated to an introductory video hosted by Jim Cantore, a world-renowned meteorologist and hurricane expert. They also are taken on a video tour of Renaissance Re's Wall of Wind, a tool used by the International Hurricane Research Center at Florida International University to test the effects of hurricane strength winds on structures.

After this primer, a personal "stormologist" escorts guests into the theater where the real fun and learning happens. Guests experience a severe storm and watch as their virtual home and those of their neighbors are pummeled. "We worked with our meteorology and engineering partners to make sure the storm is as close to the real thing as possible," said FLASH president and CEO Leslie Chapman-Henderson. "We want it to be fun for the kids and their families without being scary, but real enough that they will be motivated to prepare together after they get home." Once the storm passes, guests learn about safe building techniques and work together to rebuild their neighborhood.

"The beauty of StormStruck is that guests get to see immediately how taking just a few steps toward making their homes safer can make a marked difference when the next big storm blows into town," said Chapman-Henderson.

The post-show area outside the theater continues the learning process. Young children can build a storm kit with the appropriate items that should be gathered to keep their families safe in the event of an evacuation. An interactive program, Weather Safe at Your Address, allows visitors to enter their ZIP codes and learn how to protect themselves against the weather risks that are unique to their communities.

Expanding the Message

As StormStruck's one-year anniversary approached in August, FLASH looked for ways to enhance the exhibit and reach even more audiences with disaster preparedness information. They approached FEMA's National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) about opportunities to promote the problem of flooding, the nation's most costly, common, and deadly natural disaster. "Because of the amount of damage flooding causes each year, we knew it was essential to highlight flooding in the exhibit," said Chapman-Henderson.

FLASH and Disney consulted with the NFIP and created a ten-foot Flood Wall containing important information on flood causes and protective measures. The NFIP made the wall the flagship of a larger public awareness effort around the 2009 hurricane season. This Countdown to Hurricane Season campaign, which highlighted the mandatory 30-day waiting period for flood insurance, kicked off with a satellite media tour from StormStruck. Chapman-Henderson and former National Hurricane Center Director Max Mayfield spoke about the exhibit and the importance of flood insurance protection.

Where it can rain, it can flood, and flood insurance is the best way for consumers to protect themselves from a flood's potentially devastating financial effects. "But we know that people are feeling pinched in this economy and even something as important as flood insurance might not be on the top of their list," said Acting Federal Insurance Administrator Ed Connor. "Through StormStruck and the Flood Wall, FLASH has done a phenomenal job in helping us tell the flood story in a unique and compelling manner."

Will there Ever be a National Catastrophe Pool?

A national catastrophe insurance program continues to be tossed around the halls of congress, with no resolution in sight. S. 505: the Homeowners' Defense Act of 2009, is sponsored by Sen. bill Nelson (r-FL). Introduced on Feb. 27, 2009, it has been referred to the Senate committee on banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. related legislation (H.r. 2555) was introduced in the House by rep. ron klein (D-FL 22) on May 21, 2009. It has been referred to the House Financial Services committee.

According to the congressional research Service, a non-partisan branch of the Library of congress, S. 505 as presented has the following key provisions:

* establishes the National Catastrophe Risk Consortium as a non-profit, non-federal entity to: (1) maintain an inventory of catastrophe risk obligations held by state reinsurance funds, and state residual insurance market entities; (2) issue, on a conduit basis, securities and other financial instruments linked to catastrophe risks insured or reinsured through Consortium members; and (3) act as a centralized repository of state risk information accessible by certain private-market participants.

* Instructs the Secretary of the Treasury to implement a national homeowners' insurance stabilization program to make liquidity loans and catastrophic loans to qualified reinsurance programs to: (1) ensure their solvency; (2) improve the availability and affordability of homeowners' insurance; (3) provide incentive for risk transfer to the private capital and reinsurance markets; and (4) spread the risk of catastrophic financial loss resulting from natural disasters and catastrophic events.

* Authorizes the Secretary to establish and collect, from qualified and pre-certified reinsurance programs, a reasonable fee to offset expenses of the program.

* Instructs the Secretary to require full repayment of all loans made under this Act.

Eric Vaughn is COO of the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes-FLASH[R]. He may be reached at 850-385-7233 ext. 108 or eric@flash.org.
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Author:Vaughn, Eric
Publication:Florida Underwriter
Date:Sep 1, 2009
Words:1092
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