Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Do garage doors open the door to tornado damage?

Do garage doors open the door to tornado damage?

The garage door is often the first thing to go.

When high winds, especially tornado winds, hit a typical suburban house, the failure of many garage doors to withstand the force can become the first link in a disastrous chain reaction. Minnesota has moved in recent years to require somewhat stronger construction standards for doors, but communities elsewhere have gone further.

Some question whether stronger garage doors are worth the additional cost, since no door can stand up to the full fury of nature.

Last year, the state Department of Labor and Industry required that newly constructed residential garage doors must be able to withstand a 90-mile-per-hour gust for three seconds. The old standard had been 80 mph.

Although the move put Minnesota in line with most noncoastal states, it hardly mandates garage doors be built to stand up to the reality of tornadoes. In Rogers two years ago, a tornado clocked 157 mph. In May's twister in Hugo, winds may have reached 167 mph.

Loren Kohnen, city building inspector in Rogers, saw the problem firsthand. In too many instances, Kohnen said, damage from the September 2006 tornado began when a garage door simply blew off, allowing in a rush of wind that sometimes blew the garage itself into the next house.

"Turned out to be the garage doors were the biggest problem of all," Kohnen said. He bluntly told state officials that "you guys got to do something" about requiring stronger residential garage doors.

The state's response seems inadequate to some.

"They kicked [the standard] up 10 miles per hour, literally," said Peter Kulczyk, a former Minnesota building code official now working for Washington-based International Code Council. That change, he said, is "not significant."

There seems to be little appetite for doing more.


Buffett's Berkshire Paid to Buy Bonds If Storm Hits

July 3 (Bloomberg) -- Billionaire investor Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc. will collect $224 million from Florida in exchange for an assurance that he'll provide capital to the state if a major hurricane strikes this year.

Berkshire agreed to buy $4 billion in tax-free state bonds should the state's catastrophe program need to raise money after a major storm, said Dennis MacKee, a spokesman for the State Board of Administration, in an interview today.

The deal may erase some of the uncertainty about Florida's ability to raise money after a hurricane. The state sells coverage to homeowners and private companies at below-market rates, and plans to fund cash shortfalls in the bond market. Raising money could be a ``very challenging task,'' Fitch Ratings said in March.

``Given the state of the financial markets today, this addresses a possible need we have to place a pretty substantial bond issue,'' MacKee said. ``We were looking for a liquidity product that would allow us to move quickly after a major storm.''

Fitch said the state's homeowners insurance market could ``effectively collapse'' if a major storm hits. About 25 percent of U.S. coastal property in hurricane-prone areas is in Florida, Fitch said.

Berkshire will have to purchase the debt if the state's fund incurs $25 billion in losses this year, MacKee said. The state predicts a single storm can cause losses of that magnitude once every 32 years, he said. The most-expensive disaster in U.S. history, Hurricane Katrina in 2005, cost the industry $41.1 billion.

6.5 Percent Interest

Omaha, Nebraska-based Berkshire would collect 6.5 percent annual interest over the 30-year life of the bond, MacKee said. Florida would charge assessments to policyholders in the state to repay the debt.

The Miami Herald reported the transaction earlier today.

Buffett has said Berkshire is prepared to lose as much as $6 billion on a single catastrophe if the company is paid for the risk. Berkshire typically gets about half its profit from insurance. Company spokeswoman Jackie Wilson didn't immediately return a call seeking comment.

Berkshire's stock declined about 15 percent in the first half of the year, the worst performance in the period since 1990. After reporting record 2007 earnings of $13.2 billion, the 77- year-old Buffett told shareholders in February that profit margins from insurance will drop this year as prices decline industrywide and claims costs rise.

To contact the reporter on this story: Erik Holm in New York at eholm2@bloomberg.net.


GPIRB - the smart EPIRB

This is the first of a new generation of emergency beacons. GPIRBs (Global Position Indicating Radio Beacon) combine the latest in GPS and 406MHz EPIRB (Electronic Position Indicating Radio Beacon) technology, and add extraordinary precision to your emergency distress signal. If you are a boater who operates offshore or in the Great Lakes, this could be the best "life insurance" policy you could own.

The GPIRB, with its built in GPS, determines and broadcasts its own location. This shortens the time required to get an accurate fix on the beacon location and saving valuable time at the beginning of an SAR (Search And Rescue) operation.

The unit comes with a float-free bracket that releases it if it is submersed as in a sinking. There is a manual mode to turn the unit on manually and a test mode which should be used on a frequent basis to test the operation. It has a minimum 48 hours operating life, 8-channel internal GPS and comes with a lithium battery.

What's the difference between 406MHz EPIRBs and the new GPIRB?

The position of a 406 MHz EPIRB is determined by calculations using the Doppler shift in the beacon's distress signal which occurs as satellites approach and recede in overhead orbits. The accuracy of the calculations is determined by the number of signal bursts received by the satellites. Accuracy is enhanced when a satellite passes directly overhead, because the satellite receives the greatest number of signal bursts. The only real problem with the system is that it takes time for an accurate fix to be acquired.

In contrast, the new GPIRB takes an active role in determining its own position. When activated, its internal GPS finds its own position, just like an onboard GPS. Having located itself, it broadcasts its identity and position on 406MHz. It will then shut down for 20 minutes to conserve power, and repeat the process of locating itself and rebroadcasting. It will continue to update its position every 20 minutes as long as it is active. The advantage of a GPIRB is that an accurate fix is almost instantly available. Its frequent update allows rescuers to compute drift accurately, and direct SAR teams directly to you -- difficult to do with the time delays of an EPIRB.

Related Articles:

EPIRBs - Safety at Sea by Chief Warrant Officer Jim Krzenski, Commanding Officer, U.S.C.G. Station Fort Pierce, FL
EPIRBs - Life Insurance at Sea