Las Olas Boulevard, Miami, during Hurricane Irma
Satoshi Kina Las Olas Boulevard, Miami, during Hurricane Irma

More than a decade ago, the National Institute of Building Sciences’ Multihazard Mitigation Council (NIBS’ MMC) gave resilient design proponents a boost with its landmark study “Natural Hazard Mitigation Saves: An Independent Study to Assess the Future Savings from Mitigation Activities.” The 2005 study, funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), calculated that for every $1 FEMA spent on mitigation efforts, “there is a $4 return of avoided losses in the future,” a figure that has since been cited often by members of Congress, disaster planning advocates, and by the press, including ARCHITECT.

Last week, NIBS released Natural Hazard Mitigation Saves: 2017 Interim Report,” an updated and expanded follow-up to the 2005 study that found an even higher benefit-cost ratio (BCR). After reviewing the outcomes of 23 years of mitigation grants funded by FEMA, the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA), and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), NIBS concluded that for every $1 invested in hazard mitigation, the United States saves $6 in future disaster-related and recovery costs. These costs include property loss, displacement and temporary sheltering, administrative costs related to insurance claims, and injuries and deaths.

Federally funded mitigation strategies researched by NIBS include the acquisition or demolition of flood-prone buildings (mostly residential dwellings); the addition of hurricane shutters and tornado safe rooms; the reinforcement of structural and nonstructural building components against seismic loads; and the employment of fire-resistance strategies such as replacing wooden water tanks.

Furthermore, NIBS’ research team found that every $1 spent on new construction to exceed hazard mitigation–related requirements in the International Code Council’s 2015 International Codes can save $4 in future disaster-related costs, such as property damage, interrupted business operations, and mass casualties. Examples of exceeding the code requirements include building residences 5 feet beyond the base flood elevation instead of the required 1 foot; exceeding the strength and stiffness requirements of the 2015 International Building Code (IBC) for flood and earthquake resistance; meeting the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety’s (IBHS’) Fortified Home hurricane standards; and constructing new projects to comply with the 2015 International Wildland-Urban Interface Code.

In its press release, NIBS estimates that the federally funded mitigation strategies implemented over the past 23 years have prevented an estimated 600 deaths, 1 million nonfatal injuries, and 4,000 cases of post-traumatic stress disorder. Designing new buildings to exceed the 2015 IBC and International Residential Code would increase these numbers as well as create 87,000 long-term jobs and increase the utilization of domestically produced construction material by 1 percent.

Coincidentally, NIBS released the “2017 Interim Report” three days after the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declared 2017 as the most expensive year on record for weather and climate disasters, with damages and losses totaling approximately $306 billion.

Though researched and compiled independently, NIBS’ latest report was funded with support from public and private organizations that have an interest in “expanding the understanding of the benefits of hazard mitigation,” according to the organization’s press release. These sponsors include FEMA, HUD, EDA, ICC, IBHS, the National Fire Protection Agency, and the AIA. To vet the study’s methodology and accuracy, NIBS also consulted with more than 100 resilient design and hazard experts in academia and in the public and private sectors.

Despite the high BCR of disaster mitigation, NIBS acknowledged that not all building owners and developers would make the initial investment for long-term benefits. In 2015, NIBS MMC and Council on Finance, Insurance and Real Estate authored a white paper, with a 2016 addendum, on a “holistic approach to incentives that can drive financing mitigation investments, aligning the interests of multiple stakeholder groups so that they all benefit from natural hazard mitigation.”