Mitigation Messages: A House on the Beach, and a Boost From Congress

This past October delivered two very important messages about the importance of mitigation in the face of increasingly catastrophic weather events. The first message was contained in a photograph that needed no caption. It showed a lone house standing, virtually unscathed, amidst the rubble of Mexico Beach, Florida, which took a direct hit from Hurricane Michael. The owners of the house, reached by multiple news organizations, said that they had built it to withstand 250 mile-an-hour winds, well in excess of current building codes. They also incorporated one-foot-thick concrete walls into the structure as well as steel cables to hold the roof in place. The house literally stands as an example that with good planning, the built environment can withstand the most extreme of storms.

But what about the expense of incorporating resilient features into a structure? That takes us to the second message about mitigation that we received in October. The Federal government, empowered by Congress, has stepped up and will provide funding to finance mitigation, strengthening buildings before the storm hits. The Disaster Recovery Reform Act (DRRA) and the Supplemental Appropriations for Disaster Relief Act were signed into law by President Trump on October 5th. Both contain significant funding for pre-disaster mitigation construction. In fact, under the DRRA, mitigation grant funding is expected to quadruple.

FEMA Administrator Brock Long called the DRRA “transformational legislation”. The focus on pre-disaster mitigation acknowledges the findings of the 2017 National

Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS) report that the nation saves six dollars in “future disaster costs for every one dollar invested in mitigation activities.” Additionally, the legislation provides for a steady stream of sufficient funding, rather than year-to-year congressional appropriations. Given this reliable funding, states and local governments have time to plan and create a resilient environment, rather than rebuild after a devastating disaster, potentially repeating the same design mistakes. This approach to mitigation will allow members of the roofing community – architects, building owners, specifiers, and contractors – to use the full range of their resources to create resilient structures. That’s good news for our business, and even better news for the people who will own and occupy these resilient buildings in the face of future storms.

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