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Retro fit program finds takers on Gulf Coast


The Bay St. Louis community suffered severe wind and floodwater damage following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The Coastal Retrofit Mississippi program, funded by $27 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, covers about 90 percent of the retrofit costs.

MEMA’s Mike Ferdinand said the program has about 1,354 active applicants and about 100 retrofits have been completed. Sixty-five homes are awaiting final FEMA approval before going to construction. Thirty retrofits are underway. “Some are relatively new and some are on the Historic Register. It’s a wide variety,” he said.

The retrofits are being done on a first come, first served basis using standards first developed following Hurricane Katrina, to encourage more homeowners to retrofit their homes against future wind damages. Ferdinand said the Coastal Retrofit Mississippi initiative was designed and originally modeled around the roof and opening retrofit program of the Mississippi Windstorm Underwriting Association, also known as the Windpool, as it existed in 2010. In 2012, MWUA said it was amending its program to include additional retrofits for gable sheathing, gable outlookers and roof ridge and off-ridge vent protection. The Coastal Retrofit Mississippi project conformed to the changes and now includes standards designed by the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety’s FORTIFIED programs.

Fred Malik, manager of the FORTIFIED programs, said the institute’s goal is to protect the property and contents by adding specific upgrades to what is minimally required by the building codes that are enforced locally. The state of Mississippi does not currently have a statewide building code.

Malik is an expert on mitigation and his work has been featured on national programs including Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and Bob Vila’s Home Again.

“The focus of FORTIFIED Home is on helping people build durable housing, not disposable housing,” he said.

Malik said the institute tests building processes and assemblies at its research center in Chester County, S.C.

“We ‘crash test’ houses, see how they perform and put what we learn in to our FORTIFIED building programs,” he said. The FORTIFIED program features an inspection and designation process that can be used to demonstrate a home’s resilience. Think of the home as a system, Malik said, with all the components acting to resist Mother Nature’s extreme forces: high winds and copious amounts of water. “Is the roof strong? Are the openings strong? The entire building envelope — the exterior skeleton of the building — should work together so loads can be dissipated and transferred into the ground.”

Whether the home uses traditional or new technology and techniques, Malik said, “one of the key things is to make sure you understand how that technology is going to work with the rest of the system.

Coastal Retrofit project will help Mississippi homeowners strengthen their homes against storm damage.

Coastal Retrofit project will help Mississippi homeowners strengthen their homes against storm damage.

“It is possible to use very durable technology like insulated concrete forms but if you neglect how the roof is attached to that system, then you may not end up with a building that is as strong as you intended.”

He said the block housing in Haiti is an example of “a durable system ineffectively constructed that failed on a large scale.”

“The real key is to figure out what technologies best help to achieve the results you want and that are compatible together rather than the latest and greatest.” He said being proactive before a disaster hits “is just as important as choosing new cutting edge technology.”

Malik cautioned against relying on new technology too heavily. “Technology has to be used effectively. Don’t think that just because it’s the newest and latest that it will automatically be better. That’s not necessarily the case.”

Malik said that building a house is a fairly simple process. “We’ve been building housing for thousands of years, without a whole lot of innovation. The key is to pay attention to the details; otherwise we end up building disposable housing versus durable housing.”

Building a durable structure starts with a well organized plan, Malik said. “Know what your goals are. Just relying on codes is not adequate if you want to build disaster resistant housing.” Consider where the house is located and what the best ways are to keep the roof on and the water and wind out first.

“The building codes purpose is to protect life and give occupants enough time to evacuate and get out of harm’s way. The purpose of FORTIFIED is to go beyond the minimum and is to protect the property and its contents.”

The roof gets top priority, Malik said, because it’s a large area and it weathers rapidly because it’s exposed to all of the elements. “If it’s not successful in keeping the water out, the home turns into a bucket.”

And the best time to mitigate is when the weather is good.

“Do it when the sun is shining and in a thoughtful, proactive way,” Malik advises.

“Don’t get caught in a situation when you’re desperate to get something done, because a storm is bearing down on you. Mitigation really works best when you aren’t under the gun.”

For more information about Coastal Retrofit Mississippi, go to www.coastalretrofitms.org/

For more information about the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety’s suite of FORTIFIED programs, visit ww.disastersafety.org/fortified.


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