Congress can help to save lives and reduce the need for federal disaster aid for the next natural catastrophe by incentivizing the adoption of enforcement of strong building codes, the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies (NAMIC) said today as Congress considers legislation creating such a program.
“One effective step Congress should immediately take to alleviate the financial pressures associated with natural disasters is to encourage mitigation measures, specifically in the form of building stronger, safer home sand businesses” said Rod Matthews, Property and Casualty Operations Vice President for State Farm Insurance Companies, a NAMIC member, in testimony before the House Transportation and infrastructure Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management.
Matthews appeared on behalf of the BuildStrong Coalition, which NAMIC established to bring together advocates for stronger, safer buildings. In his testimony, Matthews noted that 2011 was the fifth most costly year on record for natural catastrophes, with roughly half of the total $72.8 billion in costs paid for by federal relief or not compensated for at all.
“The ongoing need for emergency funding has often created political battles divided by both party and geographic lines,” Matthews said. “We know that natural disasters are inevitable, and while planning for the costs associated with these disasters is not a perfect science, there is a need for the federal government to budget more wisely for them on the front end. Merely hoping the weather cooperates and relying on luck is not the way to establish FEMA’s disaster relief budget.”
BuildStrong has called for passage of H.R. 2069, the Safe Building Codes Incentive Act, which would encourage states to adopt and enforce stronger codes by providing greater post-disaster grant funding to qualifying states. According to Matthews, if H.R. 2069 were in effect today as many as 20 states would qualify for the increased funding.
“Over time qualifying states such as Florida have learned the costly lessons of building code effectiveness,” Matthews said. “Unfortunately, other states have still refused to act by adopting these minimum standards in building safety, thereby putting their citizens at higher risk and increasing the liability of all U.S. taxpayers.”
Building codes have been repeatedly proven as the most effective form of mitigation. A 2005 study by the National Institute of Building Sciences’ Multihazard Mitigation Council found that every dollar spent on mitigation would save four dollars in losses. Additionally, researchers at Louisiana State University found that stronger building codes would have reduced wind damages from Hurricane Katrina by 80 percent, and a 2012 Milliman study found that H.R. 2069 would have saved the federal government an average of almost $500 million per year in hurricane relief payments if it had been enacted in 1988.
“The overwhelming evidence supporting the widespread adoption of statewide building codes proves that the Safe Building Code Incentive Act is a fiscally responsible way to empower FEMA to assist in natural disaster recovery while working to prevent future damage,” Matthews said. “The incentives associated with this legislation will cost a modest amount of money in the near-term, but significant savings will be realized in the long-term. Stronger, safer homes and businesses save lives and better protect people’s biggest investment.”
Matthews will be available for interviews immediately after the hearing.