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Building Synergy in Disaster Recovery

Posted By Keith Porter, Vice Chair, Multihazard Mitigation Council, Wednesday, December 18, 2019
Updated: Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Porter TX GLO Conference
Figure 1. 2019 National Disaster Recovery Conference. Left to right: Keith Porter (author), Donald Leifheit Jr (FEMA), Michael Ku (FEMA), Gabriel Maser (ICC), and Jim Olk (Cities of Lucas, Texas, and Garland, Texas).

Why does synergy matter in disaster recovery, and who needs to be involved?

A panel recently addressed this, during a meeting organized by the International Code Council for a conference of the Texas General Land Office in Austin, Texas. The discussion focused on (1) building-code development (including applied research to quantify the value of modern building codes), (2) federal financial support for building-code adoption and enforcement, and (3) the role of state and local governments in actually adopting and enforcing codes.

Think of these aspects as three legs of a stool to promote disaster resilience, reduce future losses, and thereby speed recovery.

I presented the contribution of applied research to disaster recovery.

Natural Hazard Mitigation Saves shows through benefit-cost analysis that resilience is affordable, adding perhaps 1% to the construction cost of a new building to provide freeboard. (The first floor of a new code-compliant building commonly has 1 to 2 feet of elevation above the base flood elevation, that is, the flooding level with 1% exceedance probability in a year.)

Code compliance saves more than it costs, on average $6 for flood compliance per $1 added cost. It can be cost effective to build even higher: 5 feet of freeboard saves an additional $5 per $1 of added construction cost.

To recover from disasters quickly, probably the best approach is to avoiding losses in the first place.

The International Code Council offered more evidence that building codes promote resilient communities.  ICC’s Gabriel Maser showed how the Florida Building Code reduced windstorm losses by 72%, and how I-Codes in general reduced damage from hail by 10-20% in Missouri and reduced insurance by 90% after Hurricane Harvey.

But enforcement is critical: Maser argued that lax enforcement may have added $16 billion to losses in Dade County after Hurricane Andrew. (Lax enforcement is believed to greatly have aggravated losses outside of Anchorage, Alaska, after an earthquake there on November 30, 2018.) Evidence from Moore, Oklahoma shows that strong codes do not appear to affect sales price or volume, and can increase resale value: 6% for hurricane shutters, 4% for tornado shelters.

But information alone about the cost effectiveness on code adoption and enforcement does little for disaster recovery. Local communities must be able to afford to adopt and enforce the code.

FEMA representatives Donald Leifheit and Michael Ku explained that the Disaster Recovery and Reform Act of 2018 allows the federal government to provide pre- and post-disaster assistance to state and local governments to adopt and enforce the two most recent editions of I-codes, including 6 months of wages for new building inspectors.

So plenty of evidence shows that modern codes save lives and money and promote resilience, in recognition of which FEMA is offering incentives for local communities to adopt and enforce modern codes.

What about the third leg of the resilience stool: the state and local governments that adopt codes and inspect buildings? Jim Olk, mayor of Lucas, Texas and chief building official of Garland, Texas pointed out that disasters start and end locally.

Texas, like a few other home-rule states, leaves code adoption to local governments, and in many of those communities, people distrust government and regulation, and resent the costs associated with enforcement. That distrust and resentment allows builders to successfully argue against code adoption and enforcement. The third leg often is weak. 

Tags:  mitigation  mitigation saves  resilience 

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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 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 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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