Public policy plays an important role helping our nation prepare for and respond to natural disasters. Every region of our country is vulnerable to one or more hazards, such as tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, hailstorms, ice and snow, and wildfires. By helping individuals, businesses, and communities take protective action before disaster strikes, public officials can take steps to save lives, encourage personal responsibility, enhance market-based solutions, promote long-term fiscal restraint, reduce public sector response and recovery costs, and create a more resilient society. People also play an important role in reducing the impact from disasters by understanding their own risks and taking actions to minimize potential damage from hazards before they occur. Taking proactive steps to reduce risk, also known as mitigation, helps reduce damage to homes and businesses and prevent loss of life.
What is “Mitigation?”
Mitigation encompasses a wide range of activities that should be undertaken to increase the likelihood that homes, workplaces and essential public buildings can survive a natural or human-induced catastrophe. For all of these activities, the goal is the same: to reduce human and economic losses due to natural disasters, seasonal weather, mechanical malfunction, and human activity (accidental or intentional).
- Strengthening new construction through regionally appropriate building codes
- Utilizing voluntary “code-plus” construction techniques and guidelines, such as the IBHS FORTIFIED program
- Properly retrofitting existing homes and commercial structures to improve resiliency
- Disaster readiness and post-event operational continuity planning
- Land use planning that addresses both natural and man-made hazards
The Cost of Mitigation
The cost to bring structures up to the standards of an effective building code may depend on factors such as construction quality and regional building code requirements. It is possible to make modestly priced homes safer and stronger. In some areas, local, state or federal grants may be available to offset certain construction costs or assist in retrofitting existing moderately priced homes.
Why is Mitigation Important?
Saving lives, protecting homes and preserving communities is a public health objective, economic imperative and humanitarian obligation. Virtually every American faces disaster risks; for this reason, emphasizing preparedness and response is a national priority.
- According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2015, more than 143.6 million people (44.7% of the nation’s population) lived in the coastal states stretching from Maine to Texas- the area of the country most threatened by hurricanes1.
- A quarter of the U.S. population live and work in areas that face a moderate to high chance for potential damage due to seismic activity2.
- One-quarter of U.S. residents live in a county that has been ravaged by wildfire during the last 25 years.
- According to NOAA, in 2017, the U.S. experienced 15 separate billion-dollar weather and climate disasters. 2017 ties the record year of 2011 for the most billion-dollar disasters. The 2017 events include two major floods, seven severe storms (including three major hurricanes to make U.S. landfall), three tropical cyclones, a drought and wildfire – collectively causing 282 fatalities.
In today’s economy, homeowners and business owners, and communities, are watching every dollar. That is why it is important to understand that mitigation is a very sound investment, almost always resulting in significant long-term savings in the event of a loss and r reducing public sector response and recovery costs:
- Studies show that for every $1 spent on hazard mitigation, up to $6 in future disaster recovery costs are saved.
- Over the past 20 years, the average number of presidential disaster declarations has risen steadily.
- According to the Government Accountability Office, federal agencies spent at least $277.6 billion from 2005 to 2015 on disaster assistance3.
- Over the long-term, mitigation trades off an investment today against future losses. This creates a greater sense of inter-generational equity and a way to avoid future generations having to pay for damage that could have been reduced or avoided entirely through cost-effective property protection measures taken now.
We encourage public officials and individual citizens to learn more about mitigation and the cost-effective ways to prepare and strengthen our nation.