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By R. David Paulison
The Hill


 

The new Congress has a golden opportunity to advance a national disaster strategy that will better protect the American people and save taxpayer dollars. 

With the Senate and the House of Representatives working together, this is the time to address the failed status quo of waiting for storms to hit and then passing massive supplemental appropriations bills. 

Director Craig Fugate has done a tremendous job fostering resiliency and a community-oriented approach to emergency management since he took the reins of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in 2009. However, I’m sure even Director Fugate would admit that there is still much work to be done to build a more resilient country.  

According to FEMA, federal disaster declarations have jumped from a yearly average of 28 under President Reagan to 139 under President Obama. The trend is undeniable and costly for taxpayers.

Office of Management and Budget statistics reveal that the average funding provided for disaster relief from 2001-2011 was $11.5 billion a year. In 2012, the average jumped to almost $13 billion. Since 2011, $137 billion has been spent – with over $60 billion spent on Super Storm Sandy. 

The vast majority of damage is related to recent hurricanes that pounded the eastern seaboard. Hurricanes Sandy and Irene inflicted a devastating toll on numerous states, costing lives, destroying homes and ruining small businesses. 

Pre-storm mitigation efforts such as promoting model-building codes can greatly lessen the damage of hurricanes, but there are only eleven states nationwide that have adequate building codes and enforcement mechanisms in place. Many of the states without proper building codes are directly in harm's way when it comes to hurricanes and other natural disasters. Without greater adoption of strong building codes, the amount of federal spending committed to disaster cleanup and relief will continue to spiral upward. 

Preparedness and pre-storm mitigation can save lives and taxpayer dollars. According to a study conducted by FEMA, for every dollar invested in pre-storm mitigation, the nation reaps four dollars of economic benefits. Furthermore, in a landmark study conducted by the Louisiana State University Hurricane Center, researchers found that strong building codes, had they been in widespread use throughout the Gulf Region, would have reduced wind damage from Katrina by 80 percent, saving eight billion dollars. 

I know first-hand from my time as director of FEMA that the intentions of those on the front lines after a disaster are good. But I also believe that we need to step back and take a hard look at our underlying policies. While many independent groups and the General Accountability Office have examined the different causes behind the rise in disaster relief spending, there has never been a comprehensive congressionally mandated study to analyze what the precise costs are, how much federal spending has been wasted on efforts that aren’t vital or appropriate responses to natural disasters, and how best to control disaster relief expenditures going forward. 

The new Congress should pass legislation in short order to commission a Blue Ribbon Panel to explore why disaster declarations are at an all-time high, and what is really behind the dramatic increase in disaster spending. Are the increases in spending related to population increases, changes in spending, poor construction of our homes or mistakes in federal policy? Where have federal dollars dedicated to disaster relief gone? Do sufficient accountability measures exist for FEMA programs, as well as for related programs administered by the Departments of Housing and Transportation, to ensure tax dollars aren’t being wasted? 

Additionally, the panel could explore what changes in policy can be made to enhance building resiliency, strengthen building codes, and reduce disaster costs. The panel could also make recommendations concerning the proper role of federal, state, and local governments in solving this problem. Specific attention should be given to the roles of FEMA, HUD and DOT to minimize duplication of effort and waste. Community Development Block Grants are sometimes prone to abuse. These grants should be closely examined by policymakers before more resources are thrown at the problem. Finally, policymakers should assess the current status of the nation’s housing stock, and consider what federal, state and local incentives should be utilized to encourage the implementation of model building codes. 

There are several lawmakers in Congress who have dedicated themselves to addressing this serious national problem. Many have properly focused on incentivizing states, communities, builders and individuals to construct more resilient homes and buildings. The BuildStrong Coalition has endorsed many of these efforts, including the Safe Building Code Incentive Act, which would provide states with additional disaster relief in exchange for adopting strong building codes. Other bills supported by the coalition would provide tax credits and other incentives for homeowners to retrofit their homes with strong building codes and take other mitigation actions. 

Congress should authorize the above-mentioned Blue Ribbon Commission and use the findings to put in place a comprehensive national disaster strategy that aims to save lives and ultimately reduce taxpayer exposure to natural disasters. 

Paulison was director of FEMA from 2005 to 2009.


By Rep. Lou Barletta


In the late summer of 2011, Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee wreaked havoc on swaths across the eastern United States, including in my home state of Pennsylvania. Lives were lost, families were broken, and businesses and homes were destroyed or damaged. To say the very least, natural disasters of these kind are extremely disruptive to people and the economy, and impose massive cleanup and rebuilding costs on taxpayers.

Over the last 30 years, it is estimated that similar events have racked up more than $1 trillion in damages and costs. Because of the strength and fury of such storms, there will always be chaos to address in their aftermaths, but what if there were actions we could take now that would reduce these consequences in the future? Fortunately, there are such steps, and we know them by the term “mitigation.”

There are a variety of ways to mitigate future damage, such as elevating homes out of floodways or removing debris from waterways to make drainage easier. Building owners might install storm shutters, roof storm clips, or tie-downs to help structures withstand high winds and prevent devastating losses and costs. We know mitigation efforts like building codes, flood-proofing and earthquake design standards can relieve or, in some cases, eliminate the human and financial impact of disasters on the nation.

As the chairman of the Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, I am working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to explore ways Congress can help encourage mitigation practices that will save lives and taxpayer money from disasters.

Here in Congress, several members have offered approaches to facilitate mitigation and encourage the building of stronger and more disaster-resistant communities. These proposals include incentives for state and local governments to improve their building codes, which can reduce building damage and protect people from harm during a catastrophe. Other bills provide tax incentives to individual homebuilders or homeowners if they choose strong building materials and construction methods. 

Another proposal would allow individuals to set aside up to $5,000 annually in tax-free accounts for disaster mitigation expenses.

While all of these measures need to be evaluated closely and evaluated for their impacts on taxpayers, they do share a common characteristic: they are incentives and not mandates.

Continue reading “Mitigation can save lives and reduce the cost of natural disasters” »


By Seanna Adcox

The insurance industry hopes a 21,000-square-foot lab in rural South Carolina can help revolutionize the way homes are built and stem the cost of Mother Nature's disasters.

Officials at the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety say the wake of destruction left by hurricanes, wildfires and other natural disasters can be greatly reduced with construction choices that cost little extra upfront. They hope research at the facility persuades people to make those choices, ultimately saving lives and money.

In 2012, there were 11 billion-dollar-plus disasters nationwide, according to the National Climatic Data Center. They caused more than $110 billion total in damages and 377 deaths — for the second-costliest year on record, with Sandy alone accounting for $65 billion.

The price tags are not sustainable, yet people continue to build and rebuild without the next disaster in mind, IBHS president Julie Rochman said.

"We cannot continue this cycle of destruction. We've got to learn from the loss of life and the huge amounts of federal spending and private sector spending," she said. "We can break these cycles. We know what to do. It's simply a matter of will to do so."

Since the facility opened in fall 2010, it has simulated hurricane winds, hail storms and wildfire ember showers to scientifically test the effects of different construction and landscaping methods on full-size model homes — and provide the public a visible comparison. The six-story-tall test chamber can generate winds of up to 130 mph and rainfall equal to 8 inches per hour.

Officials hope the Chester County facility drives market changes in construction practices, much as the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety did for vehicles.

On Nov. 12, four Republican congressmen visiting the facility watched a wildfire demonstration and participated in a round-table discussion with industry and fire safety leaders on how to turn the institute's research into common practice.

"These natural disasters seem to be getting bigger. The damage certainly is much larger," said Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which handles disaster management. "Whether it's Sandy or Katrina, it's important that we're being smarter about how we're building things and the mitigation costs. What we can learn from this type of facility is extremely important."

Some of the lessons cost little to no money. U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney, whose district includes the facility, said the wildfire demonstration emphasized the need to clean his gutters of pine straw.

Research has led to three additions in the 2015 International Residential Code — the first update since its opening — all relating to sealing roofs to keep water out, whether from a thunderstorm or a hurricane. The recommendations add less than $500 to a reroofing job, Rochman said.

Continue reading “SC Research Lab Aims to Change Building Methods” »


By Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) and Albio Sires (D-NJ)

As we mark the one-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, we are reminded of the timeless words of America’s most famous fireman, Ben Franklin. His advice that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” rings true today, as we look back at the devastation wrought by Sandy and seek solutions to make America more resilient to natural disasters.

 

Fire fighters, emergency management experts, and insurers all agree: strong building codes provide our best defense against hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, wildfires, and other natural disasters. After consulting with the professionals who work on the frontlines to keep our communities safe, we introduced bipartisan legislation to encourage more states to adopt and enforce strong building codes as a preventative measure.

 

Our legislation, the Safe Building Code Incentive Act, would provide qualifying states that enforce strong building codes which adhere to the International Code Council model standards with an additional four percent of post-disaster grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. This legislation would provide significant benefits to homeowners, small businesses, and taxpayers.

 

Scientific research proves that when homes and office buildings are constructed by utilizing the best practices of modern building science, it is simply harder for Mother Nature to knock them down. We are confident that the Safe Building Code Incentive Act will help save lives, protect property, and ultimately reduce taxpayer exposure to natural disasters.

Continue reading “Superstorm Sandy one year later: A lesson in prevention” »


The BuildStrong Coalition released today a comprehensive report on the National Thought Leaders Forum it co-hosted with the Congressional Fire Services Institute on June 8th. The event focused on the vital role that model building codes can play in protecting property, saving lives and reducing taxpayer exposure to natural disasters.

To read the report, click here.


By Arthur Postal

WASHINGTON—Legislation has been introduced in both the House and Senate aimed at providing additional incentives for states to adopt and enforce uniform building codes.

The bill was introduced as one component of a comprehensive push by the insurance industry.

As part of the effort, the industry has created the BuildStrong Coalition in order to create momentum for Congress to pass such legislation, which has repeatedly been introduced in Congress.

Members include national business and consumer organizations, insurance companies, firefighters, emergency managers, and building professionals dedicated to promoting stronger building codes. Its members include the Congressional Fire Services Institute and National Fire Protection Association.

The effort included a hearing before a Senate subcommittee May 8 on the importance of uniform building standards and a forum held May 9 in conjunction with the 25th Annual National Fire and Emergency Services Dinner.

The legislation is the Safe Building Code Incentive Act. The bills, S 905 in the Senate and HR 1878, are chiefly sponsored by Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla, respectively. Continue reading “National Underwriter: Federal Bills Incentivize States to Adopt Uniform Building Codes” »


By Mark Hofmann

 

WASHINGTON — Legislation that would encourage states to adopt and enforce building codes was introduced in the House of Representatives and Senate on Wednesday.

The Safe Building Code Incentive Act of 2013 — H.R. 1878 — would allow states that adopt and enforce model building codes that meet minimum life-safety standards to receive an additional 4% on post-disaster funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Qualifying codes would have to be consistent with the most recent version of a nationally recognized model building code, have been adopted by the state within six years of the most recent version of the model code, and use the model code as a minimum standard.

“Nature has the stick, let’s give the carrot,” said the measure’s chief House sponsor, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., during a conference in Washington on Thursday.

Speaking at the inaugural building codes opinion leader forum sponsored by the BuildStrong Coalition and the Congressional Fire Services Institute, Rep. Diaz-Balert said stronger building codes save lives and money.

Previous versions of the measure failed to pass both chambers of Congress, but Rep. Diaz-Balart said he thinks “momentum is on our side” because citizens recognize the costs of the status quo.

Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., introduced a companion bill — S. 905 — in the Senate. Continue reading “Business Insurance: Safe Building Code Legislation Introduced in House, Senate” »


By Kevin Bogardus

“Do something now, before the storms hit.” 

That’s the message that Jimi Grande and members of the BuildStrong Coalition are bringing to Capitol Hill this week as they lobby for legislation that would guarantee extra disaster aid to states that strengthen their building codes.

 The coalition plans to blanket Washington with op-eds and print ads this week in favor of the legislation. Lobbyists with the group hope the memory of Hurricane Sandy — which inflicted costly damage on the East Coast — will galvanize lawmakers to action before the summer storm season begins.

Jimi Grande, the coalition’s chairman, said Sandy should have been a “wake-up call for Washington.” 

“I think it has and will continue to be, as will the next natural disaster that hits us,” said Grande, who is also senior vice president of federal and political affairs for the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies.

The coalition is pushing the Safe Building Code Incentive Act, which Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) plans to introduce this week in the House and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) plans to bring forward this week in the Senate.

 The bill would provide an additional 4 percent in disaster grant funding to states that adopt and enforce nationally recognized building codes. Diaz-Balart, who hails from a state often affected by hurricanes, said the legislation would encourage construction that can better withstand natural disasters.

“This to incentivize states to create these building codes, which have the effect of saving money and saving lives. It’s not rocket science, but that’s what we are trying to do,” Diaz-Balart said. “It’s not a mandate to the state. It’s an incentive for the states to do so.” Continue reading “The Hill: Insurance Industry Out in Force to Press Lawmakers on Disaster Bill” »


By Beaman Floyd

From fire to flood, hail to tornados, and everything in between — Texas proved once again last year that it really does have the most diverse weather risk in the country. That exposure, to nine different types of natural disasters, is the biggest cost driver when it comes to buying homeowners insurance in the Texas marketplace.

While Texans cannot control the weather, implementing and enforcing sound building codes for new construction or when rebuilding can help reduce the resulting damage caused by that weather — and drive down the cost of insurance claims.

Building codes are designed to reduce deaths and property damage from hurricanes and other weather hazards by setting design, construction and maintenance standards for structures.

Yet Texas trails most coastal states when it comes to instituting and enforcing building codes, according to a residential building code analysis released last year by the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS). Texas scored a dismal 18 points (out of 100) in the survey, lower than all but two of the 18 states along the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Coast. Continue reading “San Antonio Express News: Building Codes Can Reduce Weather Damage” »


The BuildStrong Coalition commended U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) for introducing the Senate version of The Safe Building Code Incentive Act today. The Menendez bill applies retroactively to prior to Superstorm Sandy, ensuring that New Jersey and New York, two states that have long enforced strong building codes would be immediately eligible for additional disaster relief aid.

The Menendez bill was co-sponsored by Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ).

Click here to read the BuildStrong Coalition's press release on the Menendez bill.