Hurricane season is just a few weeks away, and some forecasters are predicting that this year’s will be among the most active in years in the Atlantic Basin.
Having lived through Hurricane Andrew and more recently Hurricane Sandy, we have both seen first-hand the massive amount of destruction that can be caused by these catastrophes when homes, schools, and businesses aren’t built to withstand the worst that Mother Nature can throw at us.
But even as we set out to fortify our homes in South Florida and coastal New Jersey, we are thinking about our neighbors, our communities, and all of our fellow citizens at risk of seeing their homes destroyed. Because even for those of us who don’t live along the coast, it’s not a question of if the next disaster is coming. It’s a question of when.
That is why instead of waiting for the next flood, wildfire, hurricane or tornado to strike, we are introducing the National Mitigation Investment Act (NMIA), a mix of incentives and changes to FEMA that will encourage and equip states and local governments around the nation to build more resiliently.
Through cutting edge research conducted by the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety, we know that building stronger can be the difference between a home, school or small business being destroyed or still standing following a disaster. Building science has proven that increased pre-disaster mitigation and small improvements in how we build, like the use of roof straps or ring shank nails, can help to ensure Americans have an upright home following a disaster.
Furthermore, we recognize the threat that chronic flooding poses to real estate along our waterfront communities. This undoubtedly affects insurance rates, property values, clean water supplies, and general public welfare. To address these concerns, the National Mitigation Investment Act allows areas prone to chronic flooding to be eligible for FEMA resiliency funding so these communities can build upon and adapt their infrastructure to reduce these impacts.
But despite knowing the science behind the power of pre-disaster mitigation and building our homes and businesses stronger, only a small number of states have statewide and enforced code systems in place. This means the vast majority of our nation is stuck in an endless cycle of “rebuild and repair,” where homes and businesses are built back after a catastrophe in the same manner that led to their destruction.
A report last year suggested that every $1 invested in pre-disaster mitigation saves $3 to $4 in future disaster costs. And yet, the Government Accountability Office found that between 2011 and 2014, FEMA spent fourteen times more on its post-disaster Hazard Mitigation Grant Program than on its Pre-Disaster Mitigation Program.
It could not be any clearer that a paradigm shift is needed in the way our federal government approaches catastrophic weather events. By shifting more resources to pre-disaster mitigation, our bi-partisan National Mitigation Investment Act will change our nation’s “wait and see” attitude towards disasters to one that is centered on preventing losses and ensuring a minimum life safety standard for consumers to rely on.
The NMIA creates powerful incentives for states to adopt and enforce strong statewide building codes and establishes a new FEMA pilot program that would provide grants to states and localities to help defray the cost of enforcing residential codes. Furthermore, the legislation authorizes the first comprehensive assessment of federal disaster spending and policy by Congress in over 20 years. Taken as a whole, these reforms will protect all Americans in the place they should feel safest – their homes – while saving taxpayer dollars in the process.
By working together to pass the National Mitigation Investment Act, we can break the cycle of rebuild and repair while ensuring communities around the nation are prepared for the next disaster.
Representative Carlos Curbelo (R) represents Florida's 26th Congressional District. Representative Albio Sires (D) represents New Jersey's 8th Congressional District.