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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.


By Joseph Myers

In declaring May "National Building Safety Month," President Obama has provided some much-needed momentum to bipartisan legislation pending in Congress that would incentivize states to adopt and enforce model building codes as a disaster-mitigation strategy.

The Safe Building Code Incentive Act, which has garnered the support of several members of Congress from Florida, including U.S. Reps. Steve Southerland, Mario Diaz-Balart, Allen West, Jeff Miller, Daniel Webster, David Rivera, Thomas Rooney and Dennis Ross, would provide states that adopt and enforce model building codes adhering to the standards issued by the International Code Council with an additional 4 percent of post-disaster relief grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Florida is one of 16 states that would immediately qualify for additional disaster-relief assistance upon enactment of the Safe Building Code Incentive Act. But the real value of the legislation would be the powerful motivation it would provide to other states to follow the Sunshine State's lead and put strong building codes into law.

As someone who has spent his career in the emergency management field, I can attest that model building codes provide our best first line of defense against hurricanes, tornadoes and other natural disasters. When homes and office buildings are constructed by modern building science, it is simply harder for Mother Nature to knock them down. In the wake of Hurricane Andrew, Florida made a commitment to achieve the gold standard for maximizing the benefits of strong building codes. If more states would learn from our lessons, the nation would be more resilient.

The widespread adoption of strong building codes would better protect property, save lives and ultimately reduce taxpayer exposure to natural disasters. The problem is far too few states have model building codes on their books or lack the enforcement mechanisms to give their codes real teeth.

I commend the above-mentioned lawmakers from the Florida delegation for their leadership in promoting the Safe Building Code Incentive Act. This legislation provides a proactive strategy for better preparing the nation when major storms strike our communities. Continue reading “Tampa Tribune: Disaster Aid Bill Beneficial to Florida” »