A Congressional hearing today focused on the benefits of disaster mitigation efforts, including building codes, in saving lives, minimizing destruction caused by disasters, and reducing long-term rebuilding costs to taxpayers.
The Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management, chaired by U.S. Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA), received testimony from federal, state and local disaster preparedness officials, as well as private sector witnesses. U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), author of the Safe Building Code Incentive Act (H.R. 2069), also testified at today's hearing.
"As a member from California, I know firsthand the difference building codes can have in saving lives and reducing costs," said Chairman Denham. "Studies show that investment in mitigation projects, and building codes in particular, is proven to save lives and taxpayer money. It makes sense for FEMA to encourage such mitigation measures so that the costs of disasters are reduced. And for families and communities facing a disaster, minimizing the damage and protecting lives is critical. I want to thank Rep. Diaz-Balart for introducing the Safe Building Code Incentive Act and look forward to working with him and the Subcommittee further on this issue."
Congressman Diaz-Balart's bill, H.R. 2069, provides incentives, through mitigation assistance, to states to adopt and implement statewide building codes to minimize damages from disasters. The bill does not impose mandates on states or penalize states for not adopting a building code.
"The facts surrounding strong building codes are clear and widely embraced by disaster mitigation experts and emergency management officials," said Rep. Diaz-Balart. "As Congress considers disaster funding in response to current and future disasters, the Safe Building Code Incentive Act can make our homes and communities safer and stronger while saving lives, reducing long-term costs, and ultimately saving taxpayer dollars. We can't afford to pass up an opportunity to do something lasting for the American people."
Rod Matthews, P&C Operations Vice President for State Farm Insurance Companies and representing the BuildStrong Coalition, discussed the impacts of disasters, and the effects of mitigation efforts. "Not only is the cost of natural disasters measured in the loss of precious lives, it is also measured in the dollar cost to our economy," Matthews said. "2011 was the fifth most costly year on record for insured catastrophe losses in the United States. Approximately 50% of the $72.8 billion overall cost of disasters in the United States was covered by insurance in 2011. The remainder was either covered by federal disaster relief or not compensated at all."
Matthews also addressed previous research that has demonstrated the cost-savings provided by hazard mitigation. "In a landmark study conducted in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, researchers at the Louisiana State University Hurricane Center estimated that stronger building codes would have reduced wind damage from Katrina by 80%, saving taxpayers and the local economy $8 billion," Matthews said. "In 2005, FEMA commissioned a study by the National Institute of Building Sciences' Multihazard Mitigation Council. The goal of the study, based on the work of more than 50 national experts, was to assess the future savings from hazard mitigation activities. According to the study, every $1 dollar spent on hazard mitigation (actions to reduce disaster losses) provides the nation with about $4 in future benefits."
Julie A. Rochman, President and CEO of the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS), testified today, and provided further commentary on IBHS research on the benefits of mitigation. "From a financial perspective, IBHS research after Hurricane Charley found that homes built to modern building codes suffered 60 percent less damage, and that the frequency of damage among houses built to code was 40 percent lower than among homes that were built to older codes. Separate research found that insured losses from Hurricane Andrew would have been half of the total amount (which was over $19 billion in 1992 dollars) if modern building codes had been in place."
Rochman stated, "Last year, the federal government issued a record 99 Major Disaster Declarations in response to weather-related events in 35 states and two U.S. territories. The litany of disasters included floods, hurricanes and tropical storms, landslides, severe winter storms, tornadoes, wildfires, and even an earthquake that was felt here in Washington, D.C.
"Mitigation is a sound fiscal strategy for private property owners and all levels of government, almost always resulting in significant long-term savings, including reduced public sector response and recovery costs," Rochman said.