Congressional hearing highlights the benefits of disaster-resilient codes
The United States Congress recently recognized the benefits of disaster resilience through the adoption and enforcement of strong building codes.
On June 8, the House Committee on Homeland Security Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response and Recovery held a hearing — Examining Climate Change: A Threat to the Homeland — to discuss effective mitigation measures that the U.S. can take to decrease the impact of climate change, disaster costs and greenhouse gas emissions.
During the opening statements, Committee Chair Val Demings (D-FL) applauded the Biden administration’s whole-of-government approach to resilience and the $1 billion investment proposed for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) forthcoming Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) grant cycle. Eligible mitigation costs under the one-year-old BRIC grant program include expenses associated with code adoption and implementation; training, including the International Code Council’s When Disaster Strikes Institute; and code department modernization (additional information on eligible activities is available here). Ranking member Kat Cammack (R-FL), citing the 2019 National Institute of Building Sciences Natural Hazard Mitigation Saves report, pointed out that designing to the 2018 International Codes (published by the Code Council) provides a “national mitigation benefit-cost ratio [of] $11 for every $1 invested.”
In her testimony, Alice Hill, David M. Rubenstein Senior Fellow for Energy and Environment for the Council of Foreign Relations, stated that we need stronger building codes. She explained that despite codes’ notable cost-benefit ratio, 65 percent of cities and towns have failed to adopt modern, disaster-resistant building codes. Pamela Williams, executive director of the BuildStrong Coalition, advocated for incentivizing building stronger and tying existing federal funding streams to the adoption and enforcement of strong, modern building codes. Also testifying, Virginia Department of Emergency Management’s Curtis Brown touted Virginia’s building code as being one of the strongest in the country and emphasized that stronger building codes mean more resilient communities.
In response to a question from Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) seeking suggestions for actions that the federal government could take to encourage local code updates, Williams advocated for great outreach and education that would inform the public about building smarter, and the cost savings and benefits of codes. She also highlighted FEMA’s Building Codes Saves study, which shows $32 billion in loss avoidance in communities that adopted modern building codes when compared to jurisdictions without modern building codes.