Disaster preparationBe prepared: Society saves $6 for every $1 spent preparing for natural disasters

Published 1 February 2018

A new report from the National Institute of Building Sciences, a public-private partnership Congress established in 1974, examines the cost savings of preparing for natural disasters such as hurricanes and wildfires, many of which are worsened by climate change. The report builds on, and updates, the Institute’s groundbreaking 2005 analysis of the same name. The original analysis found that for every dollar invested in pre-disaster mitigation there is a $4 savings to society. The new report makes an even stronger case for advanced planning, finding that for every $1 invested in federally funded pre-disaster mitigation grants society saves $6, and for every $1 spent on building codes society saves $4.

Two weeks ago the National Institute of Building Sciences issued Natural Hazard Mitigation Saves: 2017 Interim Report, more than a decade after releasing its original report on the same topic and only days after the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) declared 2017 the costliest year on record for weather and climate disasters.

As NOAA documented — 16 events in 2017 had losses exceeding $1 billion, with total costs of approximately $306 billion, eclipsing the record losses in 2005 by $100 billion — natural hazards present significant risks to many communities across the United States. Fortunately, there are measures governments, building owners, developers, tenants and others can take to reduce the impacts of such events. The 2017 Interim Report highlights the benefits of two such mitigation strategies.

The National Institute of Building Sciences says that during the ongoing study, the Institute’s project team looked at the results of 23 years of federally funded mitigation grants provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA), and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and found mitigation funding can save the nation $6 in future disaster costs, for every $1 spent on hazard mitigation.

In addition, the project team looked at scenarios that focus on designing new buildings to exceed provisions of the 2015 International Codes (I-Codes), the model building codes developed by the International Code Council (ICC). The 2017 Interim Report demonstrates that investing in hazard mitigation measures to exceed select code requirements can save the nation $4 for every $1 spent.

The project team estimated that just implementing these two sets of mitigation strategies would prevent 600 deaths, 1 million nonfatal injuries, and 4,000 cases of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the long term. In addition, designing new buildings to exceed the 2015 International Building Code (IBC) and International Residential Code (IRC) would result in 87,000 new, long-term jobs, and an approximate 1 percent increase in utilization of domestically produced construction material.

The public-sector mitigation strategies the project team studied include:

— For flood resistance, acquiring or demolishing flood-prone buildings, especially single-family homes, manufactured homes and 2- to 4-family dwellings.

— For wind resistance, adding hurricane shutters, tornado safe rooms and other common measures.

— For earthquake resistance, strengthening various structural and nonstructural components.

— For fire resistance, replacing roofs, managing vegetation to reduce fuels and replacing wooden water tanks.

The strategies to exceed minimum requirements of the 2015 I-Codes