Once Again – Failure to Learn from Experience

From Governing, this article about a recent IBHS study: As Storms Worsen, Many Coastal States Aren’t Prepared. Lax building codes and poor enforcement are a big problem in some places. An excerpt:

Eight out of the 18 hurricane-prone coastal states along the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Coast are highly vulnerable, according to a new report from the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS). The report, Rating the States: 2018, is the institute’s third in six years. It evaluates the states on 47 factors that include whether residential building codes are mandated statewide, whether states and localities enforce those codes, and whether licensing and education are required of building officials, contractors and subcontractors.

Overall, the institute found “a concerning lack of progress” in the adoption and enforcement of updated residential building code systems across most of the states examined. “There’s not been much movement from [the first report] in 2012 to today,” says Julie Rochman, who stepped down as CEO and president of IBHS in April. “There’s some inertia.”

“Lessons From Hurricane Harvey: Houston’s Struggle Is America’s Tale”

The Diva has been contemplating the concept of resilience, as described in the document Disaster Resilience; A National Imperative, published by the National Academy of Sciences in 2012. Reviewing it against the present setting of disaster recovery efforts in Houston, TX, the State of FL, and all of Puerto Rico has raised many questions.

Reading this powerful article in the N.Y. Times suggests to me that it is time to review current thinking about resilience and about emergency management in general. See: Lessons From Hurricane Harvey: Houston’s Struggle Is America’s TaleSome key excerpts:

For years, the local authorities turned a blind eye to runaway development. Thousands of homes have been built next to, and even inside, the boundaries of the two big reservoirs devised by the Army Corps of Engineers in the 1940s after devastating floods. Back then, Houston was 20 miles downstream, its population 400,000. Today, these reservoirs are smack in the middle of an urban agglomeration of six million.

Unfortunately, nature always gets the last word. Houston’s growth contributed to the misery Harvey unleashed. The very forces that pushed the city forward are threatening its way of life.

Sprawl is only part of the story. Houston is also built on an upbeat, pro-business strategy of low taxes and little government. Many Texans regard this as the key to prosperity, an antidote to Washington. It encapsulates a potent vision of an unfettered America.

After every natural calamity, American politicians make big promises. They say: We will rebuild. We will not be defeated. Never again will we be caught unprepared.
But they rarely tackle the toughest obstacles. The hard truth, scientists say, is that climate change will increasingly require moving — not just rebuilding — entire neighborhoods, reshaping cities, even abandoning coastlines.

We need a whole new structure of governance,” he insisted. “We’ve built in watersheds, paved roads and highways because we don’t have mass transit.
“Inevitably, it all catches up with us,” the judge said. “Mother Nature has a long memory.”

See also this posting dated Sept. 7th: What H. Harvey Says about Risk, Climate, and Resilience.

Reducing Damage and Losses from Hurricanes

Stop Building Where Hurricanes Hit the Hardest . [Note: after the article was published Fugate said: “Most of the article was right, but the Headline was wrong. I never said not to build, but change how we build and removed government subsidies for new construction in coastal high risk areas.”]

Fugate acknowledged his stance can rile a crowd. People do not want to hear they are taking on incredible risk by returning home and rebuilding. Legislators will do everything they can to avoid overhauling codes and raising standards that could result in higher building costs for many.

And the federal government remains the 800-pound gorilla in the room. People live with the comfort that the U.S. government — and, thereby, American taxpayers — will sweep in and help rebuild after a devastating natural disaster, Fugate said.

“I’m not saying people shouldn’t live and develop in coastal communities, but I bet you we’d see a very different type of construction, very different standards being applied, if state and local governments didn’t have you, the taxpayer, bailing them out every time there was a disaster,” Fugate said. “They really have no incentive to change their behavior because you, as a taxpayer, are an enabler.”

Need for Building Design and Construction Standards -updated

As report by Homeland Security Wire, this new report from the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST): Joplin tornado highlights need for building design, construction standards. The lead paragraph:

Nationally accepted standards for building design and construction, public shelters, and emergency communications can significantly reduce deaths and the steep economic costs of property damage caused by tornadoes. That is the key conclusion of a two-year technical NIST investigation into the impacts of the 22 May 2011 tornado that struck Joplin, Missouri. Report and recommendations released for public comment.

UPDATE: The full report and additional details about the content of this 482 page study are on this NIST website.

“Rebuilding for resilience; fortifying infrastructure to withstand disaster”

This excellent report provides some useful guidance and weaves in case examples nicely. The report was written the by firm PWC, but the download location is Prevention web.   Note that you have a choice of components to download when you request the report. From the introduction::

This report extends the focus of the UNISDR-PwC initiative, looking specifically at the long-term opportunity for public-private sector collaboration in building or rebuilding risk-resilient infrastructure. It describes why building disaster-resilient infrastructure is critical for a region’s competitiveness, both nationally and globally. It also illustrates how the private sector can offer innovative solutions to help communities build or rebuild disaster-resilient infrastructure.

The report explores in depth six key recommendations: (i) focus on preparedness, prevention, and mitigation now; (ii) foster collaboration across public and private sectors; (iii) motivate community-wide engagement; (iv) coordinate across regional boundaries; (v) encourage resilient recovery with optimal incentives; and (vi) build back stronger and smarter. The findings in this report are relevant for cities, regions, and businesses the world over as they prepare to face the growing risks of natural disaster, compounded by the mounting challenges of the 21st century—as well as for those currently rebuilding.

Practical note: be sure to print off in best quality setting to ensure readability.

Thanks to Ed Metz for calling this report to my attention.

Excellent New Article – in Environment Magazine

Since Michelin ranks restaurants with stars, the Diva has decided to award stars to documents re recovery. Here is the first one I would give 4 stars to:

Making America More Resilience toward Natural Disasters: A Call For Action, by Howard Kunreuther, Erwann Michel-Kerjan and Mark Pauly. From Environment Magazine, July/August 2013.  The title does not really do justice to the wide array of useful content here, so I suggest you download the full article and decide for yourself how you would categorize it.

Some excerpts:

Hurricane Sandy caused an estimated $65 billion in economic losses to residences, business owners, and infrastructure owners. It is the second most costly natural disaster in recent years in the United States, after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, but it is not an outlier; economic and insured losses from devastating natural catastrophes in the United States and worldwide are climbing.

According to Munich Re,2 real-dollar economic losses from natural catastrophes alone have increased from $528 billion (1981–1990), to $1,197 billion (1991–2000), to $1,23 billion (2001–2010). During the past 10 years, the losses were principally due to hurricanes and resulting storm surge occurring in 2004, 2005, and 2008. Figure 1 depicts the evolution of the direct economic losses and the insured portion from great natural disasters over the period 1980–2012.2

There is a wealth of useful information in this article, which makes it hard to summarize. It is thoughtful and clearly writtten. I consider this an essential document, one that I think will be a classic in time.

Details re Rebuilding Rules in NJ

After Superstorm Sandy

From the real estate And construction industry perpective, here are some details about the new rebuilding requirements in NJ.: NJ Enacts New Rebuilding Rules In Response to Superstorm Sandy.  11 February 2013. The number of structures affected is truly staggering. Some details of the article:

The impact of Superstorm Sandy on New Jersey was enormous: nearly 346,000 housing units either destroyed or damaged and 190,000 businesses affected.1 Sandy demonstrated just how vulnerable to damage much of the low-lying areas in the state are to major flooding events. Because the storm’s devastation was so severe it became apparent to state policymakers and regulators that the past construction norms and flood elevation levels in these areas would have to be significantly altered for any rebuilding.

Moreover, developers and property owners alike were faced with the uncertainty of rising flood insurance premiums and huge reconstruction costs.On January 24, 2013, Gov. Christie approved emergency regulations proposed by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) that set forth revised rebuilding guidelines in the flood hazard areas throughout the state. The amended Flood Hazard Area Control Act (Flood Act) regulations, among other things, adopt the Advisory Base Flood Elevation (ABFE) maps that were recently updated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

According to the DEP statement accompanying the emergency rules, the objective of the new regulations is to encourage residents and businesses of New Jersey to rebuild stronger and as soon as possible and to do it using the best available flood elevation data for setting proper design elevations.

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Cash Incentive Offered for Better Building Codes

Sounds like a good idea to provide an incentive to states that receive frequent disaster declarations to encourage them to strengthen their building codes. See the article in Tampa Bay Online, titled Disaster-Aid Bill Beneficial to Florida.

Related to this is the fact that May is National Building Safety Month. The Presidential Proclamation for this does not have much detail. If anyone knows more about this topic, please let me know.