National Safety Group Requests Federal Efforts to Better Protect Communities from Windstorms

June 29, 2005

There are clear opportunities for the federal government to support research into making homes and businesses safer from violent windstorms and to remove barriers to developing hazard resistant construction.

That was the message delivered Wednesday to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee on Disaster Prevention and Prediction by a representative of the Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS).

Wednesday’s hearing was held to better understand severe storms, their impact on communities and what the nation can do to improve predictions and lessen the damage they leave behind.

“The main obstacles to widespread implementation of windstorm mitigation techniques in new and existing structures relate directly to issues of complacency, education, research and cost,” said Dr. Tim Reinhold, vice president of Engineering at IBHS.

The lack of data and research on the benefits of mitigation and strong building codes also reportedly poses a barrier to implementing safer building practices. According to Reinhold’s testimony:

* A majority of local communities either have no code or have adopted the latest model building codes with local amendments that weaken their provisions.

* While there is more widespread adoption of model building codes and standards for commercial properties, there are still many local jurisdictions where code adoption is nonexistent or woefully out of date.

* A lack of uniform and strong enforcement, even in communities that have adopted the latest standards, means building performance is less predictable and the levels of risk vary dramatically from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

He also identified the need for better builder and contractor education on code requirements and how to build stronger, disaster-resistant homes and businesses.

Reinhold said IBHS has been collecting and analyzing data from a wide variety of sources, seeking insight into the merits of stronger building codes and mitigation efforts. The organization uses the results of this research to help validate and refine its public awareness messages.

“We understand how expensive it can be to properly retrofit an existing home and seek to create a demand for disaster resistance in new construction that will exceed the desire for carpet and appliance upgrades,” he said.

He cited benefit-cost studies that demonstrate the positive ratio of disaster-resistant technologies, including one that showed a $4-$7 cost savings for every dollar spent on additional protection required by a proposed wind-resistant construction code.

Reinhold said the federal government could initiate a number of incentives that encourage states to adopt and enforce statewide building codes without local amendments that weaken the minimum requirements. FEMA could use code adoption and enforcement as criteria for providing additional pre- and post-disaster mitigation funds to states. He also suggested that federal mortgage agencies could provide lower interest rates or lower fees for mortgages on properties built to the latest standards.

He added that federal agency support for wind field analyses could help better communicate to the public expected winds as well as the actual experience after severe storms.

Reinhold commented that IBHS is interested in partnering with federal agencies to conduct benefit-cost studies for building codes and natural hazard mitigation measures. He also said appropriation of new funds in fiscal year 2006 and beyond to support the National Windstorm Hazard Reduction Program will further the goal of making communities safer from coast to coast.

“Buildings that survive windstorms unscathed are a benefit to their communities,” said Reinhold. “People can stay in their homes, businesses can remain open and people can continue to go about their lives with minimal disruption. These people are also likely to not be victims and will not require any government assistance to recover from a disaster since their impact would be minimized.”

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