Images of smoky, apocalyptic skylines from the West Coast have flooded social media feeds and news headlines in recent days.
One fire – the CZU Lightning Complex Fire – was started by lightning strikes in the middle of August. Many California residents in Santa Cruz and San Mateo counties frantically worked to clear brush and spray down their homes as the fires approached, before being evacuated by local law enforcement. It has taken 28 days to reach 89 percent containment with this single wildfire event.
The National Institute of Building Sciences stands ready with research and science to help residents and business owners protect their homes and properties. The Natural Hazards Mitigation Saves 2019 Report represents the most comprehensive benefit-cost analysis of natural hazard mitigation, from adopting up-to-date building codes to the upgrade of utility and transportation infrastructure.
“U.S. disaster losses from wind, floods, earthquakes, and fires now average $100 billion per year,” says Lakisha A. Woods, CAE, President and CEO of NIBS. “Millions of Americans are exposed to these disasters. We have to do a better job. The nation could invest over $500 billion to retrofit existing buildings and, in the process, save more than $2.2 trillion.”
The Battle for the West Coast
Wildfires in California have burned more than 3.2 million acres – an area larger than the size of Connecticut.
According to CalFire, nearly 16,500 firefighters continue working to contain 28 major wildfires across California. Twenty-five fatalities have been reported, and more than 4,200 structures have been destroyed.
In Oregon, firefighters are battling wildfires that have claimed one million acres and 10 lives across the state.
At least 500,000 people in Oregon—or 12 percent of the state’s population—have been told to evacuate, said the Oregon Office of Emergency Management.
Nearly the entire state of Washington is covered by a cloud of smoke, and the fires there have burned more than 412,500 acres.
Many towns have been destroyed. These include Berry Creek, California, and Malden, Washington. Also, several towns in Oregon have been “substantially destroyed,” including Phoenix, Talent, Detroit, and Blue River.
Studying Mitigation for More Than Two Decades
Mitigation Saves looks closely at:
- Building code requirements. Model building codes serve as the baseline to protect our built environment, setting minimum safety requirements to protect lives. Compared with 1990s-era codes, modern codes improve building resilience to natural disasters and save $11 for every $1 invested. Above-code design could save $4 per $1 cost, boosting safety and expediting functional recovery.
- Federal grants. Federally funded grants to study mitigation have resulted in a national average benefit of $6 to every $1 invested in upfront mitigation costs. Every state in the nation is estimated to experience $10 million in benefits from federal grants to mitigate flood, wind, earthquake, or fire. The majority of states experience at least $1 billion in benefits.
- Retrofit. Updating utilities, transportation facilities, and existing buildings is a critical component of mitigation. Water, wastewater, electricity, rail, roads, highways, telecommunications, and existing building stock must be better positioned to resist future disasters.
The goal of Mitigation Saves is to help communities, building owners, and representatives in the private finance, insurance, and real estate industries initiate a greater mitigation dialogue. Visit the Mitigation Saves report to view comprehensive two-pagers on various kinds of natural hazards and the costs associated with mitigation. To view more projects of the NIBS Multi-Hazard Mitigation Council, visit https://www.nibs.org/page/mmc_projects.
National Institute of Building Sciences brings together labor and consumer interests, government representatives, regulatory agencies, and members of the building industry to identify and resolve problems and potential problems around the construction of housing and commercial buildings. NIBS is a nonprofit, non-governmental organization. It was established by Congress in 1974. For more information, visit nibs.org or follow @bldgsciences on Twitter and Facebook.
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