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Superstorm Sandy One Year Later: A Lesson in Prevention

Oct 29, 2013

Superstorm Sandy One Year Later:  A Lesson in Prevention

By U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart and U.S. Rep. Albio Sires

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.

Since we have become involved with this issue, the need to promote strong building codes as a disaster mitigation strategy has become even more urgent. Sandy inflicted more than $72 billion of economic losses along the eastern seaboard. Nearly 650,000 houses, 300,000 businesses, and 250,000 private vehicles were damaged or destroyed by the storm. 125 people lost their lives to this horrible catastrophe.  While the damage to New Jersey, in particular, was devastating, it could have been much worse if New Jersey did not have strong building codes in place.

While Sandy was the biggest storm in recent years, there have been many more disasters that have devastated communities in every corner of the nation. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, there have been 25 major disasters over the past two years that have surpassed $1 billion in economic losses. The economic toll from these events could near $200 billion when the final figures associated with Sandy are tabulated, but the biggest cost has been the tragic loss of hundreds of lives.

In the wake of so much devastation, Congress has an obligation to put in place incentives that encourage states to be better prepared the next time a major disaster strikes. Ensuring that more states adopt and enforce strong building codes should be the cornerstone of this effort.

In a comprehensive study conducted in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, researchers at the Louisiana State University Hurricane Center estimated that strong building codes, had they been in widespread use throughout the Gulf, could have reduced wind damage by 80%, saving $8 billion. Another study conducted by the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety found that Florida’s existing strong building codes helped reduce the severity of the property damage from Hurricane Charley by more than 40 percent. And yet another study commissioned by FEMA estimated that for every dollar that the nation invests in pre-mitigation activities, such as encouraging the adoption of strong building codes, the nation reaps four dollars of economic benefits.

Strong building codes will make America safer. The problem is far too few states enforce them.  Currently, 16 states would be eligible for additional disaster relief assistance upon enactment of the Safe Building Code Incentive Act. It is our hope that the availability of additional disaster relief aid will motivate more states to put the power of modern building science to work for their citizens. Strong building codes should be the national norm, not the exception. The Safe Building Code Incentive Act will help achieve this goal.

We know Mother Nature will strike us again. The question is: will we be better prepared the next time? If we remember Ben Franklin’s advice and put in place preventative measures that encourage strong building codes, we will be prepared.