America deserves a natural disaster mitigation strategy

According to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, there have been 151 weather-related disasters since 1980, leading to more than $1 billion in economic loss to U.S. taxpayers. The cumulative cost of all weather-related damages to date exceeds $1 trillion. These statistics provide a stark reminder of the importance of establishing a natural disaster mitigation strategy to better fortify property and possessions in advance of hurricanes, tornadoes, and other weather-related catastrophes.

Between 2011 and 2012, the eastern seaboard was pounded by two of the most damaging hurricanes in U.S. history; Sandy and Irene. These devastating storms inflicted hundreds of billions of dollars in property damage and were mended at the taxpayers’ expense. As we approach the 22 anniversary of Hurricane Andrew, a hurricane that yielded upward of $25 billion in damages and took 23 lives, we wonder if the tragic damages from these storms might have been prevented had the proper safety measures been in place prior to these events.

The Climate Prediction Center, which includes research from the National Hurricane Center and Hurricane Research Division, conducted an Atlantic Hurricane Outlook and Seasonal Climate Summary that specifically states that “it only takes one storm hitting an area to cause a disaster, regardless of the overall activity predicted in the seasonal outlook. Therefore, residents, businesses, and government agencies of coastal and near-coastal regions are urged to prepare every hurricane season.” These weather experts are predicting up to 6 hurricanes, where up to 2 are major hurricanes, for the 2014 hurricane season. These are merely predictions. We know that powerful, destructive storms will continue to erupt each year at random. The question becomes whether we as a nation will learn and adapt to these events by taking proactive steps to better prepare for the next storm.

This is why I have introduced the Disaster Savings Accounts (DSA) Act of 2014. This bill was created to help American’s prepare for natural disasters. Families can annually invest up to $5,000 in a tax-friendly account then use the funds to make necessary upgrades to their home or business. Upgrades like adding concrete-fortified walls, building a storm shelter or even purchasing a generator are some additions that will increase protection to a home or business.

There are some prevention practices and emergency relief strategies in place that help mitigate natural disaster damage, but there is more Congress can do.

Other members of Congress have introduced legislation to promote the building of stronger and more disaster resistant homes and businesses.  I also co-sponsor one such proposal, the Safe Building Code Incentive Act, which provides incentives for state and local governments to adopt model building codes, whose effectiveness at reducing damage to buildings and protecting people from harm is supported heavily by scientific evidence. While these measures need to be studied closely and evaluated for their impacts on taxpayers, they do share a common characteristic: they are incentives, and not mandates.

In addition to building code standards, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, a taxpayer-supported safety net, is responsible for natural disaster recovery measures.

If passed, my legislation would help improve a few things in addition to these tools already in place. The DSA Act would reduce taxpayer-funded recovery costs, reduce the use of taxpayer dollars, and provide American families a way to save for their future in a tax-preferred account. The goal of creating a DSA is to alleviate the inconvenience and trauma caused by natural disasters by providing homeowners an additional tool to save for recovery costs. It is my hope that passage of the DSA Act and likeminded pieces of legislation will spark a nationwide debate on the importance and economic benefits of disaster mitigation. I also hope to show how individual Americans can make a difference in reducing our national debt in ways that do not require increasing taxes. 

The time has come for Congress to adopt common-sense, preventive measures that will make America at large more pliable to natural disaster events. I believe the DSA Act is the cornerstone of this larger effort. This piece of legislation will not only benefit those states most at risk from tornados and hurricanes, but has the potential to help every homeowner and rental property in America.

Ross has represented Florida's 15th (formerly 12th) Congressional District since 2011. He sits on the Financial Services Committee.

More in Energy & Environment

America’s energy moment

Read more »