Interview, Resources-BI

Life changed forever on August 29, 2005.
Now: A P!N Hurricane Relief Scholar and non-profit trailblazer at Tulane University

William Stoudt, a junior at Tulane University in New Orleans, is one member of P!N’s inaugural Hurricane Relief Scholarship Award class. His award is helping him complete his undergraduate degree. William’s work as a volunteer for the student-led Youth Rebuilding New Orleans (YRNO), and his academic pursuits as a Political Science major who follows national and local politics closely- make him an excellent advocate for severe storm preparedness and relief. P!N contacted William recently to get an update on his work in New Orleans.

Q: What are you working on now at YRNO? When we spoke in September, the City of New Orleans had just granted you the deeds to 4 homes YRNO planned to donate to public school teachers.

A: Yes, we have two of the four houses under contract; we haven’t closed on them. We’re also building up the organization by creating a new website, and starting the application process for potential homeowners. We’re also adding to the YRNO youth chapters and recently added two. One of those chapters is part of a new service learning project. So, instead of YRNO being an after-school activity as it is in all other schools, our rebuilding and education work is built into the curriculum.

We’ve begun a youth council whose representatives convene and plan how to execute YRNO projects. One of the decisions to come out of these meetings has been to use green building technology for our rebuilding projects. We’ve partnered with EnergyStart to do this. Finally, we’re building a community garden in the Algiers neighborhood, on the West Bank of New Orleans.

Q: President Obama recently visited New Orleans. How do you feel about the local and federal reforms in the rebuilding effort?

A: The President’s visit was most important as a tool to raise awareness because it drew attention back to New Orleans and the issues of storm relief and preparedness. (Although the visit was slightly overshadowed by the balloon-boy incident, unfortunately).

At the local level, there is a lot of hope in educational reform. I would call this the silver lining of Katrina. Our city educational system is being completely overhauled. Charter schools are sprouting everywhere, and people are experimenting with educational models. There are still years of work ahead of us, but this system is the Phoenix emerging from the ashes of New Orleans. Our President here at Tulane has been very active in the reforms.

We hope education reform will come with crime reform. The fact that we lost 100k in our city’s population led to predictions of lower crime rates, but that hasn’t been the case. Murder per capita is still one of the highest in the country.

Q: You’re in the middle of your junior year. Are your career goals changing as you near graduation?

A: No changes. The closer I get to graduating, the more nerve-wracking the decision becomes. I’m choosing between law school, public policy work, and an MBA. I’ll probably work in the corporate sector after graduation, then run for office in New Orleans. My goal is to one day become the city’s Mayor.

Headline, Interview

The University of North Carolina Center for the Study of Natural Hazards and Disasters (UNC Hazards Center) is geering up for the Fifth International Symposium on Computational Wind Engineering (CWE2010) in Chapel Hill, NC May 23-27, 2010.

This year’s symposium is a collaboration amongst: the International Association for Wind Engineering (IAWE), the American Association for Wind Engineering (AAWE), the Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI), the University of North Carolina Institute for the Environment (IE), and the Hazards Center.

The 2010 theme is: applications for Homeland and Societal Security. This includes natural and human-caused hazards and disasters.


AT&T is one of the wireless carriers leading the charge in ensuring that the networks are prepared for severe storms. The telecommunications giant has created extensive Network Disaster Response (NDR) tools to do just that.

Annual briefs published at the start of hurricane season are part of their preparedness campaign. As hurricane season 2009 concludes at the end of this month, consider this year’s brief.


Florida knows severe storms. It’s no wonder that several civic groups leading the nation in home-building safety and preparedness in general are stationed here.

The Florida Division of Emergency Management website has a “Strengthen Your Home” section with an array of helpful links advising, for instance: what to look for in home building technology; how to retrofit a home with existing, low-level tools; and how to identify credible builders.

Headline, How To

Julie Rochman, President and CEO of the Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS) tells P!N Staff Writer Julia Dawson what’s new in homebuilding technology and philosophy.


Q: What are the most pressing policy issues in homebuilding technology today?
A: Definitely enactment and enforcement of strong statewide building codes is a top priority. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana enacted a statewide code, but several battles remain to be fought, along the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts. It is important to remember that building codes are generally based on the desire to create a minimum life safety preserving requirement for homes commercial structures. Resistance to natural forces like high winds and storm surge isn’t part of the code everywhere it should be. Florida is leading that way in this area, because the state has learned some painful lessons from Hurricanes Andrew, Charley and other catastrophic storms. Where good codes do not exist, each new storm sadly proves how important they are to community recovery. You can literally see by looking at the amount of damage which buildings were built to code, and which weren’t…There have been issues with enforcement of statewide codes, for example in Texas. While storm-resistant building technology is good, people in some places will not use it unless mandated to do so by code.

The second crucial issue is the need for standardized, objective testing of integrated building systems. In other words, new technological developments in roofing or window parts are being tested piece by piece, but this is little to no evaluation of how these parts work as an integrated system. For example, if a home’s roof blows off in a storm, what good are the latest shutters? We need to look at the building as a whole in severe weather. Thus, we’re building a unique lab in South Carolina that will allow, for the first time, full-scale, 1- and 2-story buildings in realistic Category 1, 2, and 3 hurricane conditions.

Q: What sets this testing center apart from others such the Wall of Wind in Southeast Florida?
A: The IBHS lab is the first of its kind in the world. No other lab can test full-scale buildings, nor engulf whole structures with realistic, gusty wind with variable droplet sized water in storm simulations. The South Carolina testing center is slated to open for use in summer 2010.

Testing at our non-profit lab will be funded by the property insurance industry.

Q: I understand why the federal government or private foundations would want to fund this project, but the insurance companies?
A: The insurance companies want their clients to be safe and they want to minimize the amount they pay out in damages. Basically, the industry and their customers have the same interest: keeping homes and businesses intact.

Finally, IBHS is dedicated to a transparent process for testing and sharing results. This will not be a “pay to play” lab, and our funders will not determine what we publish. We will go where the science leads. Many people in the private sector come to us and to the consumers saying they’ve created the technology that will save the world from natural disasters. But we can’t safely endorse any invention or system until it’s been tested in a true to life, objective setting. Again, we cannot trust lab results where such technology has been tested in isolation in its “off the shelf” condition. We must see how it fares when it’s attached to the entire building system.

Q: What is one emerging technological development that you’re following now?
A: Researchers at Virginia Tech are developing a vent for roofs to withstand high winds. This vent is only applicable to membrane roofs – and this type of roof is almost always found on commercial buildings. The vent is designed to use vacuum forces to pull down the roof membrane against the insulation on top of the roof deck, so that neither gravel ballast on top, nor adhesive to glue the membrane down to the insulation and the insulation to the roof deck, is needed.

For homes, the emerging technology we are watching most closely involves some of the so-called “green” roofs – particularly devices used to extract energy (photovoltaic systems). We will be looking hard at both the durability and strength of these systems to ensure that they are strong enough to resist wind water and other natural forces.

Q: What shifts, if any, are occurring in the homebuilding safety movement?
A: Our approach is more emphasis on the community as a whole, rather than just individual homes. Hurricane Katrina left what we call “Jack-o-lantern” communities in its wake. That is, neighborhoods with a couple of structures standing, while many were wiped out. The lesson is this: if builders and residents have only made individual dwellings disaster-proof while the rest of a community is destroyed, what sort of environment are people returning to after a storm hits? Thus, today, in places like New Orleans and Galveston, TX, developers are creating disaster-proof communities rather than disaster-proof homes. We must continue to propel that shift.

Headline, How To

Did you know that a text message (aka SMS) can save a life? An SMS uses less network capacity than a phone call. During or after a severe storm, sending an SMS in non-life and death situations frees up the wireless network so emergency responders can connect to people in need.

This is just one tip provided by telecommunication companies like AT&T, Cellular South, and Verizon Wireless. Each hurricane season, those companies and others publish briefs for techie insiders and consumers alike to 1) highlight new advancements in disaster-response telecommunication technology and 2) teach consumers how to best use wireless devices during and after severe storms.

November marks the end of hurricane season, the perfect time to take heed of this advice. A sampling of the most important consumer tips appears below.

    Before a storm strikes AT&T recommends you:

Make a Communications Plan.
Designate someone outside the storm-zone as a central contact, and make certain that all family members know whom to contact if they become separated. Practice your emergency plan in advance.
Program emergency contact numbers and e-mail addresses into your mobile phone.

Learn How to Forward Landline Calls to your Cell.
If possible, forward your home number to your wireless number if there is an evacuation. Because call forwarding is based out of the telephone central office, you will get incoming calls from your landline phone even if your local telephone service is disrupted at your home. In the unlikely event that the central office is not operational, services such as voice mail, call forwarding, remote access call forwarding and call forwarding busy line/don’t answer may be useful.

Get Alternative Chargers for your Phone.
Keep your wireless phone batteries charged at all times. Have an alternative plan to recharge your battery in case of a power outage, such as charging your wireless device by using your car charger or having extra mobile phone batteries or disposable mobile phone batteries on hand.

Ziploc your Cell.
The biggest threat to your device during a hurricane is water, so keep your equipment safe from the elements by storing it in a baggie or some other type of protective covering.

    During and after a storm, Cellular South advises:

Text more, Call Less.
During and immediately after a storm, limit your personal calls so capacity is available for 9-1-1 calls and emergency responders. When possible, send text messages instead of placing voice calls. Text messages require less network capacity and are more likely than voice calls to reach their destination during periods of network congestion.

No BlueTooth and more Battery Saving Tips.
Turn off your Bluetooth, data connections, such as auto sync for PDA and smartphone users, and turn backlight down to the minimum levels to conserve battery life. When the batter is extremely low, turn phone off unless in use.

Document Damage using your Cell Phone Camera.
If you have a camera phone, take and store photos — even video clips, if possible — of damaged property to send to your insurance company.

"Surviving Disaster deconstructs how the brain responds to life-or-death events—so that we can all learn to do better. The documentary includes many characters from my book, in addition to other survivors of all kinds of trauma, from tsunami to car crashes. One young survivor describes in unflinching detail exactly what it felt like to get out of a house fire as a little girl in Texas. It is the kind of story you will never forget once you see it, and it is told with a purpose—to help the rest of us become smarter and stronger in our own homes and communities." - Amanda Ripley, author of THE UNTHINKABLE, Who Survives When Disaster Strikes.

It's been just over five years since this revolutionary book was first published and we urge you to celebrate by buying a copy of THE UNTHINKABLE. It's essential mantra is ours : practice makes perfect where preparedness is concerned. Go to to purchase the companion documentary that will change your life and perspective about emergency preparedness, based on the book by the insightfully, plain-spoken Amanda Ripley. Click here and buy it on AMAZON!


You may already know that our Owlie Skywarn is a severe weather prep hero! Now, THE YMP WEATHERFEST RALLIES are being held in cities all over the country, in cooperation with The National Weather Service, to help prepare the nation's kids as well as their parents and teachers for flash floods, climate change, storms and tornadoes, and more.

These events include appearances by OWLIE SKYWARN, the mascot and lots of participation by community first responders and other stakeholders! Go to for more information. And GO TO to PLAY THE GAME!


You can help protect low-income and disadvantaged families in Mexico and the U.S.!

PLAN!T NOW, in collaboration with Estes Mexico and other corporate partners, is working to provide life-saving weather survival kits--including water, storage-ready food, flashlights, batteries, first-aid kits and other critical supplies--and emergency family plans for residents in two severe-weather vulnerable towns in Mexico and the U.S.

Your tax-deductible donation today helps save lives tomorrow--give now.

For more information and the metric for this project, click here.