Breaking the Disaster Cycle: LaHouse Extension Strengthening Communities Through Education and Outreach

The Louisiana Agriculture magazine logo stands against a white background.

Carol Friedland

P90#yIS1In the aftermath of a hurricane or tornado, it's not uncommon to see blue tarp roofs and scattered debris in communities across Louisiana. These weather events cause significant damage to homes and neighborhoods, putting the safety of Louisiana families at risk. Researchers and extension associates at the LSU AgCenter LaHouse Research and Education Center are working to reduce damage and improve community resilience through research, education and extension.

Many families find themselves caught in a disaster cycle of continuously rebuilding after severe weather. This is especially true for vulnerable communities along the coast who too often endure the most damage from major storms. Given that natural disasters cost the state $2 billion each year, protecting homes from destruction is critical to protect families and the Louisiana economy. Proactive mitigation measures are available to improve the resilience of Louisiana communities as destructive weather becomes more common throughout the state.

The Building Resilience through Extension Awareness and Knowledge project, or BREAK, is an ongoing initiative funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA) at LaHouse to educate homeowners and building professionals on the best ways to protect a home from severe weather. FORTIFIED, an above-code, voluntary set of building standards developed by the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS), has been rigorously tested and shown to protect homes from high-speed winds and wind-driven rain.

A new roof or a re-roof that meets the FORTIFIED home standard can result in wind insurance discounts for homeowners ranging from 20% to 52%. Additionally, Louisiana offers a state tax deduction of up to $5,000 for retrofitting a home to meet the FORTIFIED standard. The Louisiana Fortify Homes Program from the Department of Insurance provides homeowners with $10,000 to retrofit their roof to FORTIFIED.

Strong winds have affected many parts of Louisiana, and the state now recognizes FORTIFIED as the premier building method to withstand the wind and build community and disaster resilience," said Julie Shiyou-Woodard, President and CEO of Smart Home America. "We are proud to work with LSU AgCenter’s LaHouse on the BREAK project to share the benefits of affordable, stronger building practices with residents throughout Louisiana.

Research from the LSU AgCenter found that the FORTIFIED standard dramatically reduces wind loss for homes, regardless of where they are in the state. Additional research found that, on average, the FORTIFIED Roof standard reduces wind loss by 30%, the FORTIFIED Silver standard reduces wind loss by 70%, and the FORTIFIED Gold standard reduces wind loss by up to 80%.

The BREAK project is a collaboration with the Southern University Agricultural Research and Extension Center.

“Over recent years, Louisianians have been impacted by natural disasters throughout the state; from hurricanes and floods to wildfires,” shared Krystle Allen, the BREAK project collaborator at the SU Ag Center. “Our team, JAGricuture, provides emergency preparedness education throughout the state of Louisiana to help support our most vulnerable communities while enhancing their resilience to mitigation and recovery. Partnering with LaHouse has been a dynamic mutually beneficial relationship; through BREAK we are able to support La House’s efforts, build our own personal capacities through professional development and trainings, and strengthen our existing programming.”

Many homeowners lack awareness of the options available to them when it comes to protecting their home from severe weather. This work focuses on educating and raising awareness among homeowners about the various ways they can make their homes more resilient in the face of severe weather. It also offers practical guidance on how to obtain a FORTIFIED designation from IBHS and the benefits of adopting a higher building standard for their homes.

Additionally, informing building professionals on the benefits and importance of FORTIFIED homes is expected to increase the number of certified professionals across the state that can build homes to the FORTIFIED standard.

The project features educational materials designed to engage children in learning about disaster preparedness. This initiative seeks to actively involve children in their family's disaster preparedness plan while improving their awareness of the risks associated with natural disasters. These educational materials aim to help children grasp the concept of disasters and empower them with the knowledge of what they can do to stay prepared. Ultimately, this effort aims to minimize the anxiety and distress that can arise for young children when disasters occur.

Researchers at LaHouse are also developing tools to help homeowners determine the most cost-effective way to protect their homes from flooding. FloodSafeHome is a digital tool funded by Louisiana Sea Grant that gives homeowners an individual elevation recommendation based on the size of their home and location.

FloodSafeHome helps homeowners make informed decisions that are cost efficient and safe. FloodSafeHome is currently only available in Jefferson, St. Tammany and Terrebonne parishes but will be available for all coastal parishes starting in Spring 2024.

Natural disasters cause significant disruption to families and communities while also straining Louisiana's economy. The BREAK project as well as other initiatives at LaHouse help homeowners understand their options to better protect their homes from severe weather.

LaHouse is located at 3622 Gourrier Ave. in Baton Rouge and is open from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. for self-guided tours of the many exhibits on home improvement. Additionally, a virtual tour is available on our website

Carol Friedland is the director of the LSU AgCenter LaHouse Research and Education Center.

This article appears in the winter 2024 edition of Louisiana Agriculture magazine.

To learn more about these programs, visit:

LSU AgCenter FORTIFIED resources: Fortified (

IBHS FORTIFIED Home program: FORTIFIED Home - Homepage - FORTIFIED - A Program of IBHS

IBHS FORTIFIED provider directory: Welcome to the FORTIFIED Directory - FORTIFIED Provider Network (

Louisiana Department of Insurance Fortify Homes program: Fortify Homes (

Smart Home America, a nonprofit that provides disaster resilience education:

A home with no roof damage is surrounded by houses with tarps on their roofs.

A drone shot shows a FORTIFIED roof post-Hurricane Ida and its neighboring homes with blue tarps. Photo provided by Smart Home America

2/29/2024 3:38:05 PM
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