A new report from the National Institute of Building Sciences says that federal hazard mitigation grants that make buildings more resistant to natural disasters such as floods, hurricanes, and wildfires will save the country $6 for every $1 that’s invested.
Further, designing new buildings so that they exceed requirements of 2015 codes developed by the International Code Council can save $4 for every $1 that’s spent, the report said.
Over time, these twin strategies would prevent 600 deaths, 1 million injuries, and 4,000 cases of post-traumatic stress disorder. Designing better-than-code buildings also would result in 87,000 new jobs.
The report was released earlier this month as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that weather and climate disasters in 2017 were the most expensive on record. There were 16 separate events during the year that racked up at least $1 billion in losses, while the total overall was $306 billion — three times the record losses in 2005.
Researchers came to their conclusions after looking at the results of 23 years of federal mitigation grants administered through three federal agencies. Steps included buying or demolishing buildings in flood-prone areas, adding hurricane shutters and tornado safe rooms to houses in risky areas, strengthening buildings for earthquake resistance, and replacing roofs and clearing vegetation around houses in wildfire areas.
A similar study in 2005 showed a 4-for-1 return on mitigation grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The new findings show a benefit-to-cost ratio that’s 50% higher than that, but the new study also included spending by the U.S. Economic Development Administration and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in addition to FEMA grants.
The 6-to-1 is an aggregate, with spending to prevent some types of damage coming with a better payoff than others. Federally funded measures to lessen damages from river flooding would save $7 for every $1 spent, for example, while earthquake and wildfire grants showed a 3-to-1 benefit-to-cost ratio. Likewise, some states would benefit more than others.
Looking at costs and benefits over a 23-year period, researchers said that total grant costs were $27.4 billion while savings amounted to $157.9 billion.
Steps to help new houses exceed code minimums included building homes higher above base flood elevations than required, making sure that houses comply with hurricane standards published by the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety, and requiring that new buildings comply with the 2015 version of the International Wildland Urban Interface Code.
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