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Flood Economics of Natural Hazard Mitigation Saves

Posted By Keith Porter, Vice Chair, Multihazard Mitigation Council, Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Mitigation Saves

When it comes to protecting your home against flood, mitigation saves homeowners time and money.

This was the crux of a recent panel presentation that I participated in, during the Strengthening Coastal Counties Resilience Workshop in South Padre Island, Texas. The workshop was arranged by the National Association of Counties (NACo), with funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), as part of a project to help counties think through how to improve resilience.

Keith PorterI represented the Multihazard Mitigation Council of the National Institute of Building Sciences in the panel to a workshop of officials of Gulf and Atlantic coastal counties.

I talked about the economics of flood mitigation, drawing lessons from Natural Hazard Mitigation Saves.

The Mitigation Saves study shows that people can afford to build freeboard (a requirement in modern building codes that wasn’t there in 1990) into new buildings in riverine floodplains. It also shows that more freeboard costs more up front, but ultimately lowers the long-term cost of ownership.

How do we know that? Mitigation Saves demonstrates that building a foot of freeboard saves an average of $6 per additional $1 of construction cost. The study also shows that building 5 feet of freeboard rather than 1 foot saves another $5 in avoided future losses per $1 of added construction cost. The initial freeboard costs on the order of $3 per square foot of floorplan, but saves $18 per square foot—which lowers the long-term cost of ownership by $15 per square foot. Adding another 4 feet adds about the same cost and saves about $15 per square foot, which saves another $12 per square foot.

Why would these benefit-cost ratios matter to the county officials NACo assembled? One reason is that people tend to talk to local officials about construction costs solely in terms of first costs—the portion of the ownership cost that the initial buyers pay up front—forgetting that ownership costs don’t end when the developer hands you the front door keys.

If a new house has a poor roof, no freeboard, or bad insulation, the low initial cost represents a false economy. Low first costs can be very expensive. It helps county officials to think about code adoption and enforcement in terms of long-term ownership cost, rather than just first costs.

The panel also included FEMA’s Deputy Assistant Administrator Angela Gladwell and Moody’s Investor Services Vice President Adebola Kushimo. Gladwell presented FEMA’s newly released National Mitigation Investment Strategy. Kushimo explained how a county’s resilience can affect its credit rating.

NIBS soon will release the 2019 edition of Natural Hazard Mitigation Saves. NIBS and MMC hope to continue to expand the study. For example, we would like to address the benefits and costs of business continuity planning and disaster recovery (BCP/DR), direct action by government entities such as hurricane warnings and flood-control measures, and restoring disaster-damaged buildings and lifelines to a higher performance level than they had before the disaster (called building back better). We also hope to use the study to inform the construction of new financial mechanisms that incentivize owners to do mitigation by having lenders, insurers, and governments share some of the co-benefits of mitigation back to the owner, potentially reducing the owner’s total cost of ownership below that of less-resilient design.

For more information, visit nibs.org. 

Tags:  flood  mitigation  mitigation saves 

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NIBS Natural Hazard Mitigation Saves study discussed at ICC Annual Meeting

Posted By Keith Porter, Multihazard Mitigation Council Vice Chair, Monday, November 18, 2019

The International Code Council recently held its 2019 annual conference in Las Vegas.

As part of ICC’s government relations forum during a panel called Up-to-Date Building Codes Provide Significant Mitigation Savings, I discussed aspects of the Multihazard Mitigation Council’s study Natural Hazard Mitigation Saves. The panel also included Jeff Czajkowski, of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, and Kevin Simmons, of Austin College, who spoke about related topics.

The 2019 edition of Natural Hazard Mitigation Saves updates the 2005 benefit-cost analysis of the same name, but addresses a much broader suite of mitigation measures: adopting up-to-date codes, exceeding codes, private-sector building retrofit, retrofitting transportation and utility infrastructure, and public-sector retrofit. The study addressed aspects of up-to-date codes having to do with greater flood freeboard relative to 1990-era codes, increases in seismic strength and stiffness, defensible space and fire-resistive materials, and various strength and detailing requirements for wind.

The panel agreed that up-to-date codes are affordable. For example, new buildings are 50% stronger and stiffer in resisting seismic forces than a generation ago for only about 1% greater construction cost, and for an even smaller percentage of first price. The reason is that the structural materials associated with lateral strength account for only about 2% of the construction cost of a new building, which itself in some cases only represents one-third of first price including land.

The public prefers and is willing to pay for resilient buildings: I cited a scholarly public-opinion survey performed for the USGS’s HayWired scenario. Simmons cited the example of Moore, Oklahoma’s enhanced wind provisions and the fact that the enhanced provisions had no effect on Moore’s housing market.

One can dispense with the objection that private-sector owners commonly decline to exceed code in new buildings by recognizing that building owners have supported mandatory, across-the-board code enhancements that keep the playing field level, whereas voluntary enhancement disadvantages the owner who opts for it relative to neighbors who do not.

Natural Hazard Mitigation Saves includes a wide variety of benefit categories in the numerator of the benefit-cost ratio: reductions in property damage, business interruption, additional living expenses, deaths, injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder, the overhead and profit portions of insurance premiums, and some environmental benefits. The study also quantified new jobs and savings to the federal treasury, although to avoid double-counting, these benefits are not included in the numerator of the benefit-cost ratio.

I acknowledged the unfulfilled desire to include other intangibles: pets, peace of mind, memorabilia, culture, and protection of disadvantaged populations.

CFIRE member Tim Ryan pointed out, to general agreement, that code enhancements are fairly useless without the political will to enforce codes, which he argued shows no sign of growth.

One way to measure the value of a building under varying levels of resilience is to estimate the cost of ownership: the first cost, which increases with design requirements such as seismic strength, plus future repair costs, which generally decrease with increasing design requirements. The sum is the total cost of ownership. If one plots the first cost, future loss, and total cost of ownership as curves on an x-y chart where x measures strength (or other measure of design requirements), the total cost of ownership tends to have a U shape, with a lowest y-value (called a local minimum) indicating what one can call an optimal design level.

Natural Hazard Mitigation Saves shows that in many places, for many perils, current code is not at that optimal point, but rather produces a false economy in terms of lower first cost but higher total cost of ownership.

The report shows that the last 30 years of code development costs America about $1 billion per year in higher first cost, but saves society $13 billion in the long run for every year of new construction. But an optimal, future code could save America an additional $16 billion for every year of new construction, for an added first cost of $4 billion.

The panel generally agreed that society benefits when it adopts and enforces up-to-date codes, and that engineers, economists, building officials, code writers, insurance commissioners, and other building professionals all have an interest and a role to play in promoting up-to-date codes and future code enhancements.

The National Institute of Building Sciences soon will release the 2019 edition of Natural Hazard Mitigation Saves. NIBS and MMC hope to continue to expand the study. For example, we would like to address the benefits and costs of business continuity planning and disaster recovery (BCP/DR), direct action by government entities such as hurricane warnings and flood-control measures, and restoring disaster-damaged buildings and lifelines to a higher performance level than they had before the disaster (called building back better). We also hope to use the study to inform the construction of new financial mechanisms that incentivize owners to do mitigation by having lenders, insurers, and governments share some of the co-benefits of mitigation back to the owner, potentially reducing the owner’s total cost of ownership below that of less-resilient design.

For the latest edition of Natural Hazard Mitigation Saves, see www.nibs.org/page/mitigationsaves

Tags:  Conferences  mitigation  mitigation saves 

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Always be prepared: October is National Fire Prevention Month.

Posted By Christine Cube, Monday, October 21, 2019

Fire Prevention Month

A year ago – just last November – California met its deadly Camp Fire. It was the most destructive wildfire in California history, claiming 86 lives and covering an area of more than 150,000 acres.

It’s more important than ever that we be ready for anything.

October is National Fire Prevention month. The goal of this campaign – and particularly Fire Prevention Week (Oct. 6-12) – is to increase fire safety awareness and help families prepare for an emergency. 

If you visit the National Fire Protection Association site, you’ll find a ton of information regarding fire safety, lesson plans, and videos. This month’s campaign theme: “Not every hero wears a cape. Practice and plan your escape.”

2018 Was a Hard Year for Fires

According to the NFPA Journal, 29 catastrophic multiple-death fires and explosions last year resulted in 215 fatalities.

This was topped by the Camp Fire on Nov. 8, 2018, a wildland/urban interface fire that broke out in Northern California’s Butte County. In addition to the lives lost, the fire was responsible for injuring 12, which included 5 firefighters. Property damage was estimated at more than $8 billion, wrote author Stephen Badger for the NFPA magazine.

Badger broke down the use of smoke alarms, which can reduce the risk of death in home fires. The association recommends monthly testing of home smoke alarms.

“The most effective arrangement is interconnected, multiple-station smoke alarms supplied by hardwired AC power with a battery backup,” Badger says. “These should be located outside each sleeping area, on each level, and in each bedroom. Homeowners should routinely test smoke alarms according to manufacturers’ recommendations.”

How You and Your Family Can Stay Safe

There are some fairly simple steps that homeowners can take to stay ahead of a fire emergency.

These include:

  • Never leave any fire unattended. Whether it’s burning in your fireplace at home, a campfire by your tent, or a candle sitting next to you, always keep a close eye on what’s happening.
  • Extinguish things properly. If you need to walk away from a campfire or candle, make sure it’s extinguished properly. The same goes for cigarettes.
  • If you see something, say something. This seems pretty obvious, but if you see a fire that’s unattended or burning out of control, call 911 or reach out to your fire department.
  • Handle everything with care. Double check local ordinances before burning yard waste, make sure everything is properly put out.
  • Place an alarm on every level of your home.
  • Test alarms and change batteries for existing smoke alarms (carbon monoxide is the No. 1 cause of accidental death).
  • Consider upgrading to 10-year sealed battery alarm. (These alarms are powered by long-life lithium batteries for 10 years.)
  • Stock up on fire prevention supplies, like extinguishers.
  • Look into insurance. Fire protection may not be a bad idea. Look into options that are available to you.

The Hard Truth

Mitigation measures help governments, building owners, developers, tenants and others reduce the impacts of fires.

This is especially critical because approximately 59 million people are exposed to wildfires in the U.S.

In fact, 2.5 million homes have been built in the wildland-urban interface and are so vulnerable to fire that it would be cost effective to retrofit them to comply with the 2018 International Wildland-Urban Interface Code.

These homes, plus nearby businesses and contents, are valued at approximately $1.3 trillion. The cost to retrofit properties these could run anywhere from $4,000 to $80,000.

The mix is uncertain, but even taking a conservatively high estimate of $72,000 cost to make the exterior cladding of a property fire resistant, replace windows with double-paned glass, and clear a defensible space of excess fuel, the average benefit of $130,000 still would exceed the cost.

Using a lower, but still realistic, average retrofit cost of $16,000, the benefit is still $430 billion at a cost of $53 billion, meaning $8 of avoided future losses per $1 invested.

When you strengthen one building, the benefits extend beyond the property line.

 

Wildfire mitigation more than pays for itself. Want to learn more? Visit https://www.nibs.org. Let’s be social! We’re @bldgsciences on Twitter, or you can find us on Facebook.

Tags:  mitigation  mitigation saves  wildfires 

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Wildfire season has begun. There are steps you can take to protect your home and family now.

Posted By Christine Cube, Friday, September 27, 2019
Updated: Wednesday, September 25, 2019

The situation in the Amazon has many feeling helpless.

Fortunately, there are ways you can help aid in the protection of the rainforest. And even more ways outlined by Public Radio International.

And while the world battles this dangerous disaster, two wildfires kick-started California’s fire season this week, reports The Washington Post.

Less than a year ago – just last November – California met its deadly Camp Fire. It was the most destructive wildfire in California history, claiming 86 lives and covering an area of more than 150,000 acres.

It’s more important than ever that we be ready for anything.

The National Institute of Building Sciences is working to help protect you, your home, and loved ones.

Here are some steps you can take to protect you and your family in the event of a wildfire.

You Need to Have a Plan.

Let’s talk about mitigation.

There are measures governments, building owners, developers, tenants and others can take to reduce the impacts of wildfires. This is called mitigation, and it can result in significant savings in terms of safety, prevention of property loss, and disruption of day-to-day life.

Some things always to keep in mind:

  • Never leave any fire unattended. Whether it’s burning in your fireplace at home, a campfire by your tent, or a candle sitting next to you, always keep a close eye on what’s happening.
  • Extinguish things properly. If you need to walk away from a campfire or candle, make sure it’s extinguished properly. The same goes for cigarettes.
  • If you see something, say something. This seems pretty obvious, but if you see a fire that’s unattended or burning out of control, call 911 or reach out to your fire department.
  • Handle everything with care. Double check local ordinances before burning yard waste, make sure everything is properly put out.
  • Look into insurance. Fire protection may not be a bad idea. Look into options that are available to you.

If you and your family are caught in something and you have time to grab anything, make sure it’s an emergency kit.

  • Kits should include: fresh water, non-perishable food, dry clothing, flashlight, batteries, first-aid kit, dust mask, personal sanitation items, radio (or some way to stay connected on what’s happening), and blanket.
  • Have readily available information – an updated list of contacts, including family members, hospitals, local law enforcement, and power, water and gas companies. You might want to have this stored in more than once place, in case you need to access this away from your home.
  • If you must evacuate, do it quickly and know your route ahead of time. Ideally, try to have a plan for several different routes.
  • Sign up for your community’s emergency alerts.

The Hard Truth

Approximately 59 million people are exposed to wildfires in the U.S.

Specifically, 2.5 million homes have been built in the wildland-urban interface and are so vulnerable to fire that it would be cost effective to retrofit them to comply with the 2018 International Wildland-Urban Interface Code.

These homes, plus nearby businesses and contents, are valued at approximately $1.3 trillion. The cost to retrofit properties these could run anywhere from $4,000 to $80,000.

The mix is highly uncertain, but even taking a conservatively high estimate of $72,000 cost to make the exterior cladding of a property fire resistant, replace windows with double-paned glass, and clear a defensible space of excess fuel, the average benefit of $130,000 still would exceed the cost.

Using a lower, but still realistic, average retrofit cost of $16,000, the benefit is still $430 billion at a cost of $53 billion, meaning $8 of avoided future losses per $1 invested.    

When you strengthen one building, the benefits extend beyond the property line.

Wildfire mitigation more than pays for itself. Want to learn more? Visit https://www.nibs.org/. Let’s be social! We’re @bldgsciences on Twitter, or you can find us on Facebook.

 

 

Tags:  mitigation  mitigation saves  Resilience 

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Dorian is gaining strength in the Atlantic

Posted By Christine Cube, Friday, August 30, 2019

News reports say Hurricane Dorian is expected to be a Category 4 storm with 140 mph winds and could land in Florida as early as this evening. 

If this happens, Dorian would be the strongest hurricane to strike the east coast of Florida in nearly three decades. The last storm of this caliber was Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

The 2018 Atlantic hurricane season was the third consecutive season with above-average storms. These storms caused more than $50 billion in damages.

This included Hurricane Michael -- the first Category 5 hurricane to hit the U.S. since Andrew. Michael made landfall near Mexico Beach, Florida, on Oct. 10.

The National Institute of Building Sciences is hard at work behind the scenes to help protect you, your home, and loved ones. 


It Starts With Timing

Hurricane season is here until after Thanksgiving -- the season doesn’t actually end until Nov. 30.

So whether or not you’re close to a storm, you may be affected. The outer bands of a hurricane come with storm surge, precipitation, and high winds.

There are measures governments, building owners, developers, and tenants can take to reduce the impacts of a hurricane or damaging storm. These measures—called mitigation—can result in significant savings.


What You Can Do

It’s critical to take time to assess your home and its surroundings.

  1. Start gathering information that quickly can be accessed should a natural disaster occur. You need a list of contacts – family members, hospitals, local law enforcement, schools, power companies, and insurance information. Sign up for your community’s emergency alerts.

  2. Pull together a basic emergency supplies kit – this should include fresh water, non-perishable food, dry clothing, flashlight, batteries, first-aid kit, dust mask, personal sanitation items, radio (or some way to stay connected on what’s happening), and blanket. Think ahead of where this emergency kit will be placed within your home and be sure to assemble one for every member of your family, including the furry ones.

  3. Have an evacuation plan and know that depending on the circumstances, it may change. Brief your family on the plan and their individual roles or duties.


Prepare Your Home

Now that you’ve assessed your surroundings and collected supplies, let’s address your home. Take inventory of valuables and personal belongings, and make sure your insurance policy is up to date.

As far as hurricane-proofing your home as best as humanly possible, there are many affordable ways to pull this off.

  1. Unplug electronics and install surge protection throughout your house for the things that must stay plugged in. The aim is to minimize the chance of fire.

  2. Cover the outdoor air conditioning unit. This will help protect against flying debris and other things that may get lodged inside the unit.

  3. Speaking of flying debris, trim trees and clear away loose debris from around your property. This includes lawn furniture and decorations.

  4. Don’t forget to check gutters and drains. In the event of flooding and high water, this step is critical to minimizing standing water.

  5. Stock up on plywood and secure and seal windows and doors. If you have a garage door, don’t forget to brace it. This will help ensure wind or water damage doesn’t enter the house from the garage.

  6. Check your sump pump to make sure it’s in working order.


The Hard Truth

Every state in the nation is at risk to more than one kind of natural disaster. When it comes to hurricanes: Approximately 127 million people are exposed.

In 1990, just before Hurricane Andrew struck, new buildings built to the 1990 BOCA National Building Code or 1991 Standard Building Code had several vulnerabilities when subjected to high hurricane winds. Specifically, poor connections between roofs and walls, loss of roof decking, increased internal pressures, and water intrusion from windborne debris resulted in widespread hurricane wind damage.

Since 1990, building codes have been strengthened based on lessons learned after later hurricanes. Today, modern building codes have improved our disaster resilience to hurricanes and floods by serving as the baseline to protect our built environment and setting the minimum safety requirements for structures.

The National Institute of Building Sciences has found that compared with a generation ago, code development in these areas saves an estimated $11 for every $1 invested in mitigation efforts.

Want to learn more about the built environment? Visit https://www.nibs.org/. Let’s be social! We’re @bldgsciences on Twitter, or you can find us on Facebook.

 
 
 
(Photo credit: National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration) 

Tags:  mitigation  resilience 

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