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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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An earthquake can happen at any time. Are you ready?

Posted By Christine Cube, Monday, August 26, 2019

Earthquake Rescue


If you live on the West Coast, you might remember that day.

 

Just last month around July 4, a 6.4 magnitude earthquake struck Ridgecrest, California. The following night, an even larger 7.1 earthquake shook the area again.

 

These earthquakes were the largest to hit Southern California in 20 years.

 

The Los Angeles Times reports that in the 10 days after the events in Ridgecrest, there have been “209 earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 or greater centered nearby.” Put into perspective, an average 25 earthquakes with magnitudes between 4.0 and 5.0 occur each year in California and Nevada, the LA Times reports.

 

Thankfully, no serious injuries or major damage were reported.

 

map created by the Advanced Rapid Imaging and Analysis team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory shows rippling rainbows forming a circular pattern around the faults of the two quakes.

 

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

 

Here are some tips to protect yourself in the event of an earthquake.

 

Let’s Talk About Mitigation

It’s important to have a plan.

 

There are measures governments, building owners, developers, tenants and others can take to reduce the impacts of earthquakes. These measures—commonly called mitigation—can result in significant savings in terms of safety, prevent property loss and disruption of day-to-day life.

 

Consult with a professional to assess what can be secured within your home.

  • Anchor bookcases, shelves, or other pieces of furniture to the walls and install strong latches to cupboards and other cabinetry.

  • Properly secure art and valuables with museum or sticky putty.

  • Know the location of the switches to quickly turn off gas lines and water mains.

  • Stock up on canned foods and other non-perishables, should this event require some waiting out at home.

  • Prepare an emergency kit for yourself and every member of your family. 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.

  • Consider securing an earthquake insurance policy. A standard homeowner’s insurance policy may not cover earthquake damage.

  • Sign up for your community’s emergency alerts.

 

If the Shaking Starts and You’re Indoors -- Stay Inside

An earthquake can happen anytime. Know where to plant yourself in every room of the house.

  • Practice this drill with your loved ones.

  • Drop down and hold on. Some people select doorways because of the sturdiness of the frame; others choose to wait out these events beneath strong desks or tables.

  • Cover your head and neck with your arms, and stay away from furniture that may topple over or windows that could shatter.

  • If you’re in bed, protect your head and neck with your pillow.

  • Do not run outside. Wait inside until the shaking is over.

  • Check for hazards or damage to your home, including wires, gas lines, and water pipes.

 

If You’re Outside -- Stay Outside

You might be in your car, when an earthquake begins. There are measures you can take.

  • Pull over, turn off the car, and set your parking brake.

  • Avoid structures like overpasses and bridges.

  • Stay away from power lines and any other structures that could pose a hazard to you and your family.

  • Stay inside your car until the shaking stops. If a power line falls on your car, stay inside until a trained professional comes to remove it.

If you’re outdoors when an earthquake takes place, here are some specific tips for you.

  • Move to an open and clear area, free of things that may fall on top of you.

  • Drop down and cover your head.

  • Do not enter damaged buildings.

  • Steer clear of obvious hazards, like down power lines.

  • Once the shaking stops, listen to local news reports via radio, TV, social media, and cell phone text alerts for emergency information and instructions.

  • Don’t try to remove heavy debris by yourself. 

 

The Hard Truth

Approximately 85 million people are exposed to earthquakes.

 

When it comes to earthquake resistance, various structural and nonstructural components may be strengthened.

 

Federal grants for earthquake mitigation totaling $2.2 billion put the average benefit-cost ratio at $3 to $1. So, for every dollar invested toward mitigation, society saved $3.

 

Put another way, according to research by National Institute of Building Sciences, federally funded earthquake hazard mitigation saved society $5.7 billion, from 1993 to 2016.

 

Furthermore, common building code requirements for earthquakes saves society $12 for every $1 invested toward strengthening buildings.

 

When you strengthen one building, the benefits extend beyond the property line to the families of those who work in the building and the community the building serves. There are also other societal benefits, namely less loss of service or business interruption.

 

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

Tags:  mitigation saves 

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