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Puppets Preach Dog Safety

With Who Let the Dogs Out blaring in the gymnasium and the friendly Neigh Bear dancing to the music, State Farm Fire Claim Representative Carolyn Pitre and her band of puppeteers take the stage at LaSalle Elementary in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in hopes of preventing dog bite injuries with children.

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For nearly 15 years, this dog bite program has taught thousands of children dog safety. It all started with an old refrigerator box and the handy State Farm educational booklet “Fido – Friend or Foe?”  Over the years, with the help of Carolyn’s dad, the puppets have earned a real stage and continue to develop their program. As a former school teacher, Carolyn feels right at home in front of 200 pre-K to first graders and loves carrying on this message year after year.

“It’s all about education and prevention. I’ve worked some really bad dog bite claims over the years, and we want to do our part to educate little ones on safety with dogs,” states Carolyn.



Careful Clara (Karen Hope), Safety Sam (Troy Alfred) and Watchful Willy (Barry Hunter) teach the kids all types of dog etiquette and safety. The kids learn how to let the dog smell their fist first like a “hand shake,” and how to roll up into a ball in case a dog does attack. With help from Cassandra Whitty and Marvin Snyder, the practice session helps to ensure that all the kids are prepared to interact safely with dogs. Karen, Troy, Barry, Cassandra and Marvin all know the facts about dog safety and share the knowledge they’ve learned on the job at State Farm.



Whether a dog is a family friend or a stray on the street, the kids of LaSalle Elementary leave the State Farm puppet show each year with knowledge that could save their life.

Puppets Preach Dog Safety

With Who Let the Dogs Out blaring in the gymnasium and the friendly Neigh Bear dancing to the music, State Farm Fire Claim Representative Carolyn Pitre and her band of puppeteers take the stage at LaSalle Elementary in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in hopes of preventing dog bite injuries with children.

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When Love Rains, It Hails

A hail research field study isn’t exactly anyone’s idea of romantic. Swapping candle lit dinners for life on the road chasing storms in vans full of research equipment probably wouldn’t work for most couples.  But Dr. Tanya Brown and Dr. Ian Giammanco are anything but conventional.

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Dr. Tanya Brown is the lead research engineer and director of hail research for the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS). She is conducting a major field study on hailstorms with a team that includes lead research meteorologist Dr. Ian Giammanco.

In addition to their research, the pair also happens to be dating.

Giammanco and Brown met while attending graduate school at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, TX, where they worked on several thunderstorm and hurricane field research projects. Since then, amid week-long beef jerky binges and of course the storms, Giammanco and Brown found some common ground. 



The Research

IBHS  develops safety research that can be translated into real world solutions, and the hail study is no exception. Giammanco and Brown seek to improve weather forecasts and influence the design of roofing products to be better prepared for hail damage. Their hope is to leverage this study to decrease property losses caused by hail. The research conducted occurs in the central plain region of the United States. They study hail characteristics such as size, shape, density and hardness, so they can come as close as possible to Mother nature when they produce hailstones at the IBHS Research Center.

Love at First Hail



According to Brown, “We definitely did not have a love at first site kind of relationship. We had known each other for at least a year before we really ever had a conversation more than just saying hi while passing in the hallway.” At the time they met, years before the hail field study had begun, they realized they both had a passion for field research.

It takes a special kind of love not only to be research partners, but also life partners. Brown explains, “I’d say our dedication to field work is what really ties us together.”

Bonded by a common goal that will eventually benefit the common good , their relationship is the perfect blend of uniqueness. “There’s not a lot of people out there that will basically give up their whole life for weeks or even months at a time to live in crummy hotels and eat fast food every meal of every day, not to mention braving the wind, hail, rain and storm surge, and actually enjoy doing it and get to do it with their significant other,” says Brown.

 2013 IBHS Hail Field Project Highlights from IBHS on Vimeo.

Benefits of the Study

The pair remains motivated; they believe in the good that this study will be able to produce. According to IBHS, as the population increases and the spacing between buildings decrease, there has been a significant uptick in damage due to hailstorms. In fact, from 1999 to 2011 hail was the number one cause of losses for Texas homeowners coming in at $10.4 billion according to The Texas Department of Insurance.

State Farm supports the work of Dr. Brown and Dr. Giammanco and believes in the good that can come from this kind of research. Besides studying hail, researchers also test hail resistant roofing material in the hopes of preventing damage. The field study also seeks to improve weather forecast models and hail detection.

Ups and Downs



But working with a loved one isn’t always easy, “we do disagree sometimes about the project, but ultimately we will arrive at what is best for the project, and that is a big reason that we’ve been so successful,” Giammanco says.

Ultimately their differences complement each other, Giammanco explains, “Tanya makes sure that I let things go when I need to so that I don’t obsess about things like a missed forecast or not enough data.”

Brown explains further, “We have worked together for so long that we really have a natural rhythm, and each take advantage of each other’s strengths. There are a lot of things I don’t have to worry about taking care of because I know he’s got my back and vice-versa.  It makes us really efficient and successful.”

The most difficult part of their nomadic relationship is having them both away from home at the same time, “there’s no one there to check the mail, water and cut the grass, and most importantly, take care of my beagles,” Brown says.

But they know they are meant to be together. “Tanya is the only girl I know who would swim and wade through storm surge water to retrieve instrumentation during a field project, so she is the girl for me!” Giammanco says. 

The Impact

With all the good Brown and Giammanco hoped would come out of their mutual interest in studying the impact of severe weather, love was not what they expected, but they’re glad it did. Even still, they remain dedicated and focused on their work, Brown says, “We definitely push each other to achieve success and fill in each other’s gaps, which makes us well-suited to tackling such a complex issue such as hail.  We’re definitely looking forward to continuing our research partnership both in the field and in the lab, and look forward to making a huge impact in the coming years.” 

The more successful the study is the better educated homeowners, insurance companies, and roofing manufacturers can be. With this knowledge and combined power, hailstorm damage can hopefully fall significantly.

When Love Rains, It Hails

A hail research field study isn’t exactly anyone’s idea of romantic. Swapping candle lit dinners for life on the road chasing storms in vans full of research equipment probably wouldn’t work for most couples. But Dr. Tanya Brown and Dr. Ian Giammanco are anything but conventional.

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Wild Weather Survivors

When nature takes a walk on the wild side, we realize how prepared we really are – or aren’t. Three families share their stories as well as what they’ve learned as they’ve recovered from their disastrous weather encounters.

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Jack McDonald had been settled in his little corner of Ellensburg, Washington, for 17 years with his wife, their horses, their dogs and “the coolest gang of cats you ever saw,” he says. You might not think of the rain-soaked Pacific Northwest as at risk for wildfires, but they were on the edge of open range. “They’d come close in the past,” he says.

On August 13, 2012, his wife called: “She could see the smoke and said, “We gotta get out of here,’” McDonald says. Twenty minutes later the horses were loaded in a trailer and their dogs were in her car. He could see the fire in the distance. “The winds were horrendous – 60 miles per hour across the ridge – but it looked like it might miss us,” he says. McDonald put the cats in their double-wide mobile home and was giving his wife a hand with the horses when he heard that the fire was spreading – and had changed course. “I came back up to my ranch, and it was clear that my house was in danger. I was going to go get the cats, but the fire chief stopped me,” McDonald says. “I said, ‘I can see the house right there! I need to get my cats!’ But the fire had already swept in.”

The McDonalds’ home burned down to the crawlspace, leaving nothing but ash. “Glassware and cookware had melted into puddles,” Jack recalls. “We recovered nothing”

They began looking to replace their belongings as soon as they could. And that’s when insult added to injury. “I bought the minimum amount [of insurance] I could get, trying to save money,” McDonald admits. They’re living in a smaller rental now. “It’s 800 square feet less,” he says. “We had to cut back on a lot of things, like buying used furniture. But I don’t mind used furniture. That’s not the point. What makes me sick is thinking of what’s irreplaceable.”

What To Do

Wildfires can’t be predicted the way hurricanes or blizzards can, says David Miskus, a drought-monitoring meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA): “Overall, we’re expecting more intense dry spells, more warm spells.” The closer your home is to the range or the brush, the more at risk you are.

Clear away brush. Instead of watering to maintain lush green areas, make sure to remove brush, which is a fire hazard.
Gravel is your friend. Create a buffer zone between your home and potential fires with strategically placed gravel and other rock.
Don’t light fires during a burning ban. Sounds obvious – and yet again and again wildfires begin when someone does this.




Two years ago in June, Don Frank was sitting in his law office on the ninth floor in a building in downtown Springfield, Massachusetts. This particular day, which started out hot and sunny, was turning peculiar, and the view out his window was Frank’s first clue.

“Way out over the Berkshires I saw this cloud,” Frank recalls. “And it was moving quickly. My office mates turned on the radio, and we heard that there was a crazy tornado situation coming through Massachusetts. But somehow the idea of being affected by a tornado seemed implausible.”

After all, tornadoes happen in big-sky and prairie country, and the South. This was New England! “I could see what was now clearly a tornado forming, coming right over the river, which is a block and a half from my office,” Frank recalls. “I still wasn’t worried, because we all know tornadoes never affect people in Springfield.” He laughs a little. “But I thought, ‘It might knock down power lines, and if I end up stuck someplace, I’d rather be home.’”

What Frank did next was the opposite of what you should do during a tornado warning: he got into his car. He even offered his office mate a ride. “As we drove out of the parking lot, we came into very, very high winds – but I was still pretty sure nothing bad would happen to me!”

But bad things happen to everyone, no matter where they live, right when they least expect it. “The tornado went up and over my car,” Frank says. “In a second my car was completely engulfed in debris. My office mate sort of slid down in her seat. I shut my eyes, and at that moment I heard a giant kaboom! My back window pulled out with the pressure differential. Stuff was blowing into my car. As fast as the tornado hit – literally three seconds – it left.”

Frank saw a steel girder from a building lying across the street about 20 feet from his car. He counts himself incredibly fortunate – he was unhurt and was even able to repair his car. But something shifted for him that day. After he got home he tried to shrug off the events of the afternoon and meet some friends for a bike ride. “We were just rolling out on our bikes when at that moment that same freaky tornado wind blew,” he says. “I was obviously reliving the trauma, and suddenly I had barely enough strength to bike home.” No longer would he operate under the assumption that bad things couldn’t happen to him.

What To Do

Tornadoes can happen almost anywhere – even in New England. In fact, 2011 was the deadliest tornado year in five decades. Tornadoes are hard to predict, and there is often too little time to get out of their way. But there are still some wise precautions you can take.

Get a good storm door. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has identified certain storm doors that can withstand 250-mile-per-hour winds; if you live in Tornado Alley (from the Rockies to Appalachians), install one of those.
Strengthen your garage. A garage door can be especially vulnerable during high winds, and if your garage is attached that spells trouble for your whole house. A reinforced, windowless door is your best bet. You also can install vertical bracing that helps to reinforce the door.
Secure your windows. If you’ve heard you should open windows during a tornado, you’ve heard wrong. Instead, investigate DIY systems that clip plywood to your windows – no nailing necessary.
Consider installing a safe room. If you live in an area prone to tornadoes, this might be the best move you can make. It won’t protect your home but will protect you and your family – and that’s what’s truly irreplaceable.




The move for Patrick and Tammy Stewart and their two young daughters from their east coast, house to California, was wrenching. “We bought the house as a fixer-upper, and I literally painted every single inch of every single wall,” Tammy says. “It was our first house, and we loved it.” But career opportunities beckoned, so in January 2010 the Stewarts rented out their beloved east coast home and drove across country.

Almost two years later their tenants moved out. Just a few days before new renters were scheduled to move in, Tammy noticed news reports of a particularly bad storm coming. “In Takoma Park just about all the trees were planted at the same time – 70 years ago – and now they’re all dying,” Tammy notes. “We had a big tree in the back and two in front. I just knew something would go awry.”

Sure enough, the morning the storm made landfall, Tammy got an email from her old neighbor. “The subject line said, ‘It’s not too bad!’” Tammy says with a rueful laugh. “Attached was a photo of a tree that had fallen. Our neighbor described it tipping in slow-motion … riiiiight into our house.”

The Stewarts panicked. “We were 3,000 miles away, and this was an emergency! What were we going to do? We had to get the tree off the house – we worried winds would cause further damage.” Also their new tenants were arriving in just two days. “The first thing we did was call State Farm, then the tree guy,” Tammy recalls. Acting quickly, the Stewarts’ agent assessed the damage, the tree was chopped up and hauled away, and a contractor came out to make sure the house was structurally sound. Thankfully, it was. The Stewarts were lucky.

They were really lucky because, as Tammy admits, they didn’t really know what was insured.

“We got the insurance we were supposed to have as property owners. We didn’t know what was actually in our policy,” she says, “what was covered, what wasn’t. I didn’t even know what our deductible was!”

Tammy is glad the event forced her and Patrick to become more informed. “I think that tends to be the case for a lot of people,” she says. “You get what you’re supposed to get with the thought that nothing will really happen. It was eye-opening. We were so lucky we had no flooding, because now I realize we weren’t covered.”

In the midst of the hassle, the Stewarts haven’t lost sight of the silver linings. “We had never exercised our policy,” she says. “With State Farm it went really smoothly. We were surprised, given the damage back [on the East Coast], that our relatively small claim was handled so quickly.”

What To Do

Hurricanes and strong storms often pack a major punch. It’s important to be prepared and, as with any dangerous storm or peril, listen to and react appropriately to any evacuation or safety messages delivered by local weather and law enforcement services.”

Prepare for high winds. Add window protection and reinforce entry and garage doors. Pull all lawn furniture, planters and garbage cans inside – anything that’s not tied down is a potential projectile.
Stock up. Make sure you’ve got batteries, flashlights, and enough water and nonperishable food to last a few days. Fill large containers with water for washing and flushing, and gas up your vehicles.
Look into flood insurance. If you don’t live in a floodplain, chances are you’re not covered for flooding. Most flood insurance is provided by the National Flood Insurance Program, not standard homeowners policies.

Wild Weather Survivors

When nature takes a walk on the wild side, we realize how prepared we really are – or aren’t. Three families share their stories as well as what they’ve learned as they’ve recovered from their disastrous weather encounters.

Read More

From Animal Shelter To The Red Carpet

Abandoned by her family in 2009 in McLean County, IL a stray Labrador retriever named Ellie – and later renamed Kai – dug determinedly through a large box of toys, looking for the tennis ball and ignoring the rest of the toys.

That single-minded focus saved her life and earned her national recognition.

LINK TO STORY

From Animal Shelter To The Red Carpet

Abandoned by her family in 2009 in McLean County, IL a stray Labrador retriever named Ellie – and later renamed Kai – dug determinedly through a large box of toys, looking for the tennis ball and ignoring the rest of the toys.

That single-minded focus saved her life and earned her national recognition.

LINK TO STORY

History Makers Hit The Road

If you think about it, lots of good things involve the number five. Take the Jacksons, for example. There are also those luxurious five-star hotels and restaurants. Don’t forget Cinco de Mayo celebrations. And who doesn’t like a big high five after a job well done?

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Nowadays the famed legacy of the number five endures with the Jansens, a set of, you guessed it, quintuplets. Elijah, Taylor, Nick, Miranda and Carter are Nebraska’s first set of quintuplets. The world caught a glimpse of the tiny history-makers when Oprah invited them onto her show in 1999. Today, as they celebrate their 16th birthday, they are still making history.



Driving In Different Directions



Learning to drive as a quintuplet has its advantages. “It’s comforting because we’re all going through the same thing together. We can learn from each other,” says Miranda, who describes herself as a bit of a paranoid driver. “I’m afraid I’m going to make a mistake. Not only that, I can be totally careful, but I can’t control other drivers.” Maybe that’s why she prefers reading to driving these days.

“That’s the thing about quintuplets. They’re all very different people with very different interests. And I’ve learned you can’t force them to want to learn to drive,” admits dad Jeff, who has emerged as the quintuplets’ primary driving instructor.

When the teens turned 15, they all rushed to earn their learner’s permit. Jeff says he felt this intense pressure to schedule a behind-the-wheel driving lesson every week with each teen in order to teach them everything possible before they turned 16. What he found, after the newness of driving wore off, is not all of them were excited to drive, especially when severe winter weather struck. The polar vortex froze everything, including their driving aspirations.

“Some of them aren’t ready and that’s okay. I’d rather them take their time,” said Jeff. And so, like many other things in life, the quintuplets are traveling at different speeds.

Back in 1997, Karla and Jeff were proud parents to a 12-year-old daughter, Nicole. For more than a decade, they tried to expand their family until finally they learned on Christmas Day their prayers had been answered. Shortly thereafter, they discovered they were having quintuplets. The babies arrived 8 weeks early on July 7, 1998.



Mom and Dad say the quintuplets’ unique personalities were obvious from the start. Elijah, for example, has always been quiet. When asked what he thinks about learning to drive, Elijah responds simply and a bit reluctantly, “It’s alright.”
Just alright?

“Just alright,” he says. Elijah is most interested in video games and robotics.



The Road Less Traveled

For all the perks of learning to drive with your siblings, there is one major downside: scheduling driving lessons. Like the household bathrooms, not everyone can go at once. Two parents. Five teens. Two cars. It doesn’t take a mathematician to know the answer is a complicated computation.

In the beginning, everyone was scrambling for practice time with Dad. The result? The road less traveled was nowhere within Omaha city limits. Now only two of the quintuplets are driving in the fast lane toward the DMV, curbing some of that chaos. Taylor and Carter plan to test for their licenses this summer. “I do try very hard to be perfect. I wouldn’t say I’m 100% perfect, but I do try not to make any mistakes when I’m driving,” insists Taylor. The “family princess” readily admits she’s sometimes her own worst distraction. “I’ll notice a wrinkle in my shirt or a hair out of place and I’ll try to fix it,” she said. That makes Mom and Dad nervous. And with quintuplets, those concerns are multiplied times five.



Close Calls



Car crashes are the No. 1 killer of teens so Jeff and Karla are trying to teach the quintuplets to be extra vigilant each time they sit behind the wheel. “We talk about unsafe things we see other drivers doing,” Karla, a school librarian, calmly explains. “They point out things they think I’m doing wrong, like not driving with my hands at 9 and 3 o’clock all the time [on the steering wheel]. We talk to them about the things they can be doing better when they’re driving. We just try to keep the conversation going.”

You get the sense Karla’s ease comes naturally even with her large family. She’s also a grandmother to oldest daughter Nicole’s six-year-old twins. Yes, twins. No need to adjust your screen.

Her calmness goes flying out the proverbial window, though, when there is a close call on the road. And with five teens learning to drive at the very same time, there have been plenty of close calls. Ask the quints about their worst driving experiences and you hear some pretty common mistakes.

Blind spots can catch even the most experienced drivers off guard, but Miranda finds them terrifying after she nearly sideswiped another car. There was the time Elijah ran a stop sign during a driving lesson, leaving him shaken and embarrassed. Once Nick was so confused about which way to turn at an upcoming intersection that he froze, literally screeching to a complete stop in the middle of a busy street and causing some gridlock for the irritated drivers behind him. There is no Easy Street when quintuplets are learning to drive.



“I want the kids to become more confident, but not to the point where they’re careless. Being a little nervous is good. It keeps them on their toes,” says Jeff.

And while there are always teachable moments, he tries to impress upon them that being a safe driver is a lifelong journey. “I can teach them everything I know, but it won’t matter if they’re not paying attention. If they can manage to stay safe, I’ll know all of this worked. The practice drives, the lessons, the blog. That’s the ultimate test of success.”

Driven To Help

By most accounts, the teens are listening. Taylor, a talented songstress, once made up her own song about driving 2 and 2, which stands for 2 eyes on the road and 2 hands on the wheel. Today she and her siblings are making history once again as the first set of quintuplets to document their driving lessons, cringe-worthy moments included, on a safety blog they created with help from State Farm called 5 Will Drive. Sometimes they make videos; other times they post pictures, but there is always a lesson to be learned.

The quints have tackled everything from merging to driving distractions. “You hear about so many car crashes with teens on the news. You realize how reckless some people can be. You really do have to pay attention 100% of the time. Keep your eyes focused on the road,” says Nick, a music and theatre star at his high school.





For nearly a year, the quintuplets have shared their lessons, hoping other teens and parents can benefit from all the wrong turns they have made. “We’re learning from our mistakes, but other people are learning, too. Our friends think it’s a cool thing we’re doing. So it seems like we’re actually getting a chance to help others be safer drivers on the road,” said Carter, who likes to run and sing, though, he’s quick to point out not at the same time.

Jeff, a plant manager, says his colleagues are commenting on the blog, too. “Last month was a big safety month for us at work. We focus on safety inside and out of the plant. The kids’ 5 Will Drive blog was brought up and used as this example of staying safe on the road. My co-workers say they wished there had been something like that, a resource like that, when they were 16 and learning to drive.”

An Important Sign

All five teens will renew their permits before their birthdays. They need to take a state driver’s education course and pass a road test before officially becoming licensed drivers. It looks like Taylor and Carter will start the course later this summer. Miranda, Nick and Elijah say they will get around to it some other time. In the meantime, they will continue to document and share their driving experiences on their blog.

“Driving, researching safety topics and just talking about driving in general gives me a chance to be a leader. I kind of feel like an authority…,” says Nick, his thought interrupted by Taylor who bristles at the idea of Nick being an authority.

“Authority figure? No, Nick. This is a team effort.” And that makes all of them laugh, even Nick. You can tell over the years the quintuplets have learned to play nicely, which is likely the result of sharing everything from toys as toddlers to their very own safety blog as teens.

Nick’s status as an authority may be up for debate, but there is one subject that isn’t. When asked what they think of cell phone use in the car, they simultaneously indicate cell phones are not used when they are behind the wheel. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people are killed and injured in crashes caused by distracted driving every day in the U.S. Cell phones are one of the biggest distractions for drivers.

“It’s common sense,” adds Miranda. “I’ve heard about so many accidents caused by using your cell phone. I don’t want to make that same mistake.”

For Elijah, Taylor, Nick, Miranda and Carter, the road to becoming licensed drivers is full of twists and turns, some busted hub caps, more near misses than anyone cares to count and detours. As with life, there will be signs pointing them along their paths. Proceed with Caution. That’s one Dad and Mom hope they always remember.



To learn more about the quintuplets’ blog, 5 Will Drive, visit http://5willdrive.com.

History Makers Hit The Road

If you think about it, lots of good things involve the number five. Take the Jacksons, for example. There are also those luxurious five-star hotels and restaurants. Don’t forget Cinco de Mayo celebrations. And who doesn’t like a big high five after a job well done?

Read More