The weather event earlier this week was first reported as a tornado strike by local media on a “mobile home park1” which in this case appears to be a manufactured home community.
Profitably Decoding Windstorm Reports for Industry Professionals
Before diving into the details, this Daily Business News brief will pull back the curtain to examine the dynamics behind windstorm and news reporting.
While some media are established purely for messaging purposes, apart from a profit motive, much of the mainstream media is a business. Media-as-business naturally has a business model. That business model boils down to eyeballs, audience share, clicks and ratings, which translate into ad revenues.
For those who believe in free enterprise, all of that – done ethically – is just fine. An example of what pays for media are the ads on the right.
In print digital, radio, TV and cable news rooms across America, death, danger, damage, and destruction are the stuff that headlines and sound bites are built upon.
‘Damage’ in media can be physical damage. But ‘damage’ can also be damage or harm to some person’s, group’s or product’s reputation.
In deciding what stories to cover, for decades the slogan in newsrooms has been expressed by media mantras like this one, “If it bleeds, it leads.”
If there are competing tragedies or tumult, the one that a news operation’s producers or management perceives has the greater headline value routinely wins more coverage. Networks and publishers also want some balance – which includes ‘good news’ or light hearted items.
If an operation is into a certain “narrative” on a topic, that media operation will likely follow the lead of the previously established narrative or talking points.
With that background, let’s briefly examine a windstorm this week, to see how local media reported the weather event. We’ll decode from that experience some of what appears to have actually occurred.
Because the headline and the reality – intentional or not – were quite distinct matters.
That said, author Beau Zimmer for WTSP obliquely revealed a powerful truth behind many of the mainstream media reports on manufactured homes (MH), mobile homes, and windstorm reporting.
Palmetto, Florida Weather Event Impacts Manufactured Home Community
“The National Weather Service has determined damage to a Mobile Home Park and Apartment complex in the Palmetto area of Manatee County was caused by straight line winds and not a tornado,” said Beau Zimmer.
While Zimmer’s opening line mentions apartment complex damage, the video by WTSP focused exclusively on the community which includes both pre-HUD Code mobile homes, and post June 15, 1976 HUD Code manufactured homes.
“Residents of the Coach House Mobile Home Park say they were awakened by strong storms early Monday morning,” stated Zimmer.
“You heard a lot of wind and then all of a sudden I started hearing things hit my place,” said resident Bobbie Ray. “Even when we had the hurricane, it wasn’t this bad.”
The Florida Manufactured Housing Association (FMHA) – or a national post-production trade association worth their salt – may want to debrief this event. Because if the resident is correct in saying that this incident was truly worse than hurricane damage – while still tragic for some – the background reality reveals an event that the majority of factory-built homes visible in the video have little or no visible damage. Zimmer notes something similar.
“Winds generated by the storm and suspected microburst ripped off the roof of at least one mobile home and also damaged the community’s maintenance garage. Downed power lines could be seen throughout the neighborhood along with a fence boarding the neighboring property which was mostly gone,” wrote Zimmer.
Here terminology – the difference between a mobile home and a manufactured home – is significant. Because there are visual clues that an expert in mobile and manufactured housing can spot. The destroyed and damaged homes may indeed have been true, pre-HUD Code mobile homes. What appears to be a true mobile home is visible in the WTSP video.
Rephrased, the home destroyed may well have been a mobile home. That’s important.
Returning to WTSP’s narrative, “Just a lot of wind and just a big thud… and that’s it,” recalls Larry Huss who lost a portion of his roof. “It [the storm] just came in on us, and there it was.”
“Power was restored to most of the neighborhood within several hours but electric crew continue working to repair lines and snapped power poles” said Zimmer.
Going to the Dogs – Damage, But No Deaths Reported
Recalling the negative spin following a windstorm by mainstream media last year out of North Carolina, Brad Lovin observed that hand-picked information could be worse for the industry than entity false information.
In the WTSP report, the damage to an apartment complex isn’t mentioned at all in the video which aired live during a broadcast/cablecast.
MHLivingNews and MHProNews have emphasized for years that all premature deaths or avoidable tragedies are understandably lamented.
That said, the analysis of the cold, hard facts often reveal just how few deaths there are per year from tornadoes or windstorms that strike and kill residents of mobile and manufactured homes. Note none were mentioned in this incident.
There are more deaths from dog attacks each year than there are people that die during a windstorm that had a mobile or manufactured home as their residence.
Cars, cigarettes, too much sugar, and a long laundry list of events that involve or contribute to death would reveal the following. Death tied to a mobile or manufactured home (MH) during a windstorm are close to the bottom of the list of what ends a life.
For example, in 2017, National Weather Service (NWS) data reflect that the odds were over 1,000,000 to 1 in the favor of the an MH resident that they would be safe from storm related death. That’s a statistic this writer has never heard or read from a mainstream media report. Have you?
The MH Industry has Responsibility to Educate and Engage the Media
The MH industry arguably has a responsibility to routinely engage the media, as publisher L. A. “Tony” Kovach and a panel he organized for the Manufactured Housing Institute (MHI) presented some years ago.
While Ann Parman was gracious and appreciative, she has since announced her retirement. MHI, for whatever motives, failed to do anything substantive on the windstorm or media engagement issues. Years later, an advertorial, a press release, or a post on the topic of manufactured home safety and durability simply isn’t enough. The proof is the routinely flawed or misleading mainstream media reports.
Media and researchers must be directly and routinely engaged.
Minds must be won over by reason and reality.
What that means in practice is that until the majority of media and researchers ‘grasp the facts’ about modern manufactured homes, vs. the decades of myths, the industry must organize and address the issues which are limiting the HUD Code manufactured housing industry’s potential of selling 500,000 to 1,000,000 new home units per year.
Voices among the tech-giants have concluded that only factory-home building can meet the shortage between conventional building and the number of housing units needed in the U.S.
One of the great fears that’s falsely been whipped up among the public is the mistaken notion that ‘mobile homes are tornado magnets.’ Steady, routine engagement with every reporter, news producer or editor that misuse terminology – or misreport reality – are a key part of what must take place to debunk the false notions about the strength and safety of our industry’s modern homes.
The HUD Code was created in part as the response by leaders of the pre-code industry to negative media coverage. There were relatively few builders of mobile homes in the late 1960s and early 1970s that did a truly bad job. Many before the HUD Code were building to ANSI, UL, or other standards.
But the mobile home industry responded to those negatives by addressing the cause. They did so by seeking federal regulation. should be noted that the FMHA does a far better job on this windstorm topic than many others in the industry have done. That said, the facts – especially those from third parties – must be hammered home. The below is an example.
“Compared with the unregulated mobile/trailer homes of the past, the manufactured homes built after 1976 have a higher level of safety, durability, and quality, and the small fraction of homes damaged during hurricanes attests to their safety and durability.” – Scholastica “Gay” D. Cororaton, Certified Business Economist (CBE), National Association of Realtors ® (NAR).
The industry must hammer home, time and again:
- The mobile homes of the past were built to different or even no standards,
- manufactured homes (MH) today all must meet critical safety, energy, and quality standards that yield more durability.
- The HUD Code was the fix for mobile home safety,
- The Manufactured Housing Improvement Act of 2000 addressed installation standards, plus provided key provisions for ongoing improvements which includes industry input via the Manufactured Housing Consensus Committee (MHCC).
- The Dispute Resolution Program gives a consumer safeguard not found in conventional housing.
The MH industry’s members can stand tall. The manufactured home industry’s homeowners can and should be proud.
As a possible explanation for what occurred in this Florida weather incident, the video below explains that improper carports or awnings or other attachments cause about 80 percent of the failures of a manufactured home during a windstorm. That’s per Tim Reinhold, PhD – the chief engineer for the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS). Note that some of the debris shown by the local news videos resembles that of a carport or attachment.
Arguably an industry organization must be forged that deals with such media engagement issues on an ongoing basis.
This trade media has already, and can continue moving forward, to compliment that educational effort. It is obvious that we operate distinctly from mainstream media. Our interests as trade media – as with most trade media – are to honestly, ethically advance the interests of manufactured home owners, industry professionals and investors. Proper care for the interests of customers and residents, results in professionals and investors being able to sustainably profit.
Solving the affordable housing crisis should be a key theme for the manufactured home industry. That’s a social motive that should move mainstream media or researchers to consider the conclusion that CBE Scholastica came to, recapped anew in the graphic below.
For the management of MHProNews, it’s about identifying the road blocks that hamper the acceptance of modern MH, and thus the potentially robust growth of manufactured housing. ## (News, analysis, and commentary.)
Footnote 1: examples of the proper terminology for manufactured homes are suggested by Scholastica “Gay” Cororaton, CBE, in the quote above. Homes before June 15, 1976 are mobile homes. Those that could be pulled with a car or pickup are trailer houses. Those built to the HUD Code for manufactured homes after June 15, 1976 carry a red HUD label or seal. The terminology is not optional.
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