Hurricane Preparedness Means Getting Your House Ready Too

Jun 6, 2016

In a recent experiment the pre-Andrew roof fared even worse than shown in this photo. This time it completely detached from the top of the house and blew away.
Credit Florida International University

You’ve heard it before. Hurricane Season is here. And it’s time to get ready. But Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater says there’s more to hurricane prep than one might think.

Hurricane preparedness is about more than bottled water and batteries—that’s according to Florida CFO Jeff Atwater

“Your children, seniors possibly traveling with you will still need their medications. Do you have all their healthcare information? You’re going to need access to your finances. Do you have all your bank records and finances with you?” Atwater says.

And then there’s your home. Atwater recommends homeowners check with their insurance agents to make sure they’re covered and that any new renovations or additions are noted. And he says Floridians should consider their home’s structural security.

“Our neighbors have moved those shutters around in their garage time after time. Do you know the fasteners? Are they still handy? Who is it going to take to help you put up those shutters? How soon in advance must you start? All of this because you’re going to be running to protect your most precious, certainly your most significant asset, which would be your property,” Atwater says.

Atwater and others are concerned Floridians are becoming complacent. Citizens Property Insurance CEO Barry Gillway says it’s been while since Florida’s had such a long quiet streak when it comes to the storms.

“It’s been since 1851 there’s been a string of 10 years without a cat three hurricane hitting Florida. So under those circumstances, you forget,” Gilway says.

So, Atwater says he thought an example could help. He teamed up with the International Hurricane Research Center at Florida International University where Arindam Chowdhury, the director of the Wind Engineering Research lab walked insurance officials and members of the media through an experiment using the so called “Wall of Wind”

“So what we are going to see today is the power of the Wall of Wind. We have a structure here, which is constructed as a pre-Andrew kind of structure. So it has the toe nails and things like that,” Chowdhury says.

Toenailing involves driving a nail in at an angle while attaching two perpendicular pieces of wood. New techniques require the use of hurricane straps. But Chowdhury says more than 80 percent of the buildings in Florida are constructed using the older methods. And he says that can lead to devastating damage during a hurricane. Chowdhury starts the wind, then comes the rain.

“So you can see the wind driven rain starts. You can see how the wind seperates from the sharp edges of the building. So under those kind of circumstances you create a very high wind suction on the structure. We’ve reached a category one because we’ve reached 74 miles per hour, so this is like a category one wind speed," Chowdhury says.

The wind speed continues to increase. Participants are watching the experiment on a screen, but if you listen closely you can hear a low hum. That’s the wind. The speed reaches 110, about a category two or three hurricane, and the structure loses its roof.  Chowdhury says that damage combined with the rain, which would now be going inside ruining a family’s belongings adds up to significant damage. But that’s not all.

“Imagine that these kinds of elements falling from the building can become windborne debris. So it’s not only damage to your own building, but it’s going to go and hit the down-wind building and one of the biggest losses besides the wind and the rain are damages from windborne debris,” Chowdhury says.

Chowdhury and Atwater urge homeowners to consider how their homes and constructed and to consider retrofitting to ensure their homes, and the homes of their neighbors are safe this hurricane season.