Featured Column, Interview, Resources-BI, Resources-GI

P!Nsider tips: Building Homes in a Storm Zone
Meet Robert Coleman, President of Category Five Homes, Inc., a Southeastern builder specializing in hurricane-safe homes. P!N’s Julia Dawson contacted Robert to learn more about what makes a structure storm-safe. Whether you live in an apartment or home, if you’re in a hurricane zone – this interview is a must-read. Let the questions here inspire you to investigate if builders and code departments where you live are storm-safe.

Q: Your presentation suggests that the technology you use, monolithic concrete roofs and walls with steel rebar reinforcement to form house frames, is not mandated by state building codes or Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) “Shelters in Place” codes. Correct?
A: Correct. The technology … is often used in commercial construction projects. Residential builders (because of the myth that concrete is too expensive) use wood for the roof and wall framing. Such materials and methods are near obsolete, but are still allowed by state building codes [in most areas]. Even with straps, wooden roofs are still vulnerable to flying objects during hurricanes. Even if the house withstands the storm, if the roof is opened, the interior is exposed to wind and water. In just days, mold, moisture, and rot condemn any chance to repair damage to the house and its contents..

We need stronger federal and state building codes. Dade and Broward Counties (Miami area) have the highest building code requirements in the United States and are great models.

Q: Why do builders not use the safest storm technology to protect homes to withstand extreme weather?
A: Unfortunately, some builders see a home damaged by a storm as a chance for new work and expensive repairs. Most code departments, until recently, have had minimal regulations to protect coastal homes from hurricanes. Since 2004, new rules have appeared in the codebooks, and inspectors are enforcing these rules, lobbied by insurance companies.

Q: How do your homes compare in cost to consumers versus the average local market homes?
A: The difference in cost is minimal when you consider the lifetime of the home and savings in insurance, maintenance [and] energy efficiency. Take, for example, our poured-in-place concrete pitched roof. Builders today continue to use wood truss roofing systems, which are highly vulnerable to tornado-force winds. The likeliness of penetrating a concrete roof or wall is far less than [one] made with wood. Our window and door systems use glass and aluminum framing that is missile-impact resistant.

Research today estimates a wooden house will last 25-30 years with proper maintenance. A monolithic concrete constructed house can last for generations.

Q: How did you determine that your roofs, windows, and doors, withstand 300 mph winds? When you say your homes are 30-40 percent more energy-efficient, what does the percentage refer to – 30-40 percent less spent on heating and cooling per year?
A: Our products have been tested through several labs ,… including [at] Texas Tech University. One test involved a cannon that shoots an object at speeds of up to 100 mph into wall panels built with wood, brick, metal [or] solid concrete. Concrete was the only material to resist the object. In addition, we work very closely with the Green Coalition and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) environmental companies.

Concrete eliminates air infiltration through the roof and wall, which allows for greater control of interior air quality. There are no drafts or cold spots, greatly reducing [fuel costs] for heating and cooling. The homes consume an estimated 30-40 percent less energy and wear less on the systems equipment.

Q: Do you have plans to build disaster-proof communities as opposed to individual homes? Could you foresee being able to create affordable and high-end, storm-proof communities? What would you need to do this – government subsidies?
A: Category Five Homes in specific is not looking for government subsidies, but we welcome joint ventures. Our goal is to build affordable safe havens that withstand the test of time and nature’s ferociousness. We also hope to help enhance state building codes throughout the United States and the Caribbean, blending Green Coalition fundamentals with 21st-century construction technology.

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.


PetFriendlyTravel.com gives links and tips for preparing for every member of your family who will be affected by an emergency, including your pets.


This Hurricane Survival Guide targets the Capital Area counties of Florida, but offers great tips for anyone living in hurricane-prone areas.


To mark the end of the hurricane season means to not only take stock of the lessons learned from this year’s storms, but to explore the progress made from lessons learned and debated in past years following major storms. One issue that has gained urgency in the scientific community over the past few hurricane seasons has been the continued use of the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale.The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale was developed by civil engineer Herbert Saffir and meteorologist Bob Simpson. Saffir was commissioned to study low-cost housing in regions of the world that were prone to tropical cyclones and hurricanes by the United Nations in the late 1960s. Realizing that no system existed to describe the effects of a hurricane, he developed a 1–5 scale based on wind speed that showed expected damage to structures. Later, Robert Simpson, then director of the National Hurricane Center, modified Saffir’s work, adding measurements for flooding and storm surge. The scale was introduced to the general public in 1973. Saffir, who died in November 2007, defended his system in recent years by stating that adding too many variables into a rating system would make it too complex, and that the system’s longevity was due to it being easy for the public to understand.

But critics argue that the current scale doesn’t take a hurricane’s size, rainfall or location into account, and is too simplistic. For example, Hurricane Ivan (2004) and Hurricane Dennis (2005) were both categorized as Category 3 storms when they made landfall in the United States, 30 miles apart from each other. However, the differences in each hurricane’s size, speed and fluctuations in strength resulted in extreme differences in the total destruction left in the wake of the hurricanes’ paths. Dennis caused US$4 billion in total damages in all affected countries, while Ivan resulted in US$3 billion in damages in the Carribean alone, and an additional US$13 billion in the United States.

Also, as with Ivan in the inland United States, the rain associated with a hurricane often leads to flooding that causes just as much or more death and damage than the wind. In coastal areas, the storm surge is often the most devastating component of a hurricane, but this is determined more by the size of a hurricane rather than its maximum wind speeds. Hurricane Katrina (2005) hit wind speeds that categorized it as a Category 5 storm for part of its lifespan, as did Hurricane Camille in 1969. However, Katrina’s hurricane-force winds extended 105 miles from its center while Camille’s only extended 60 miles out, resulting in much greater damage from Katrina.

Fast forward to this year: Hurricane Ike made landfall in the United States as a Category 2 storm, but became the most destructive storm of the 2008 season and for the United States, ranks as the third-costliest tropical storm behind Hurricanes Katrina and Andrew. Again, officials are questioning the value of the Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale and discussing whether and how the system should be revised. Local officials and citizens often make decisions based on the ranking of a storm on the scale, and as a Category 2, Hurricane Ike was not considered a major hurricane. Revisions to the current scale system could result in more accurately predicting a storm’s potential destructiveness by taking all data into account that modern meteorological equipment can provide.

One alternative system is the Hurricane Severity Index employed by the private forecasting service ImpactWeather. The HSI rates storms on a scale from 1 (weakest) to 50 (strongest), accounting for both the intensity of a storm as well as the size of its wind fields. Another alternative is Integrated Kinetic Energy, a concept developed by Mark Powell, an atmospheric scientist for NOAA’s Hurricane Research division, and Timothy Reinhold, a former Deputy Director of FEMA. A storm’s IKE (not to be confused with Hurricane Ike) calculates its total wind energy to determine its destructive potential. These systems would not be as easy for the public to understand, but supporters argue that it is more important that emergency personnel understand the numbers and react accordingly.

In the face of a storm, though, the trust and cooperation the public is the one of the most important determinants in the outcome of a storm’s destructiveness in loss of life and property. If new systems are used, the scientific community will have to work to establish the public’s trust in their effectiveness.

"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 PBS.com 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 www.youngmeteorologist.org/wrn for more information. And GO TO www.youngmeteorologist.org 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.