Stronger Building Codes Lessen Disaster Impact on Whole Community

Natural disasters are dangerous, unpredictable, and damaging. They cost upwards of $ 110 billion in economic impact and property damage in the U.S. each year. While it is unlikely humanity will harness the weather to keep such occurrences from happening, it is completely possible to lessen the impact of natural disasters. Stronger building codes are the simplest and most-effective way to improve the odds of a community surviving a natural disaster intact.

The best form of disaster preparedness is mandatory building standards. By and large, the part of the building code which deals with disasters is formulated by factoring in “acceptable losses.” That is, they factor in the probability of risk as related to disasters to determine an acceptable level of damage and loss within a given property unit. This level is determined regardless of the disaster’s cumulative potential to wreck and entire neighborhood or town.

A town’s ability to survive a natural disaster intact isn’t based on mathematical probabilities, but on their preparedness to handle the consequences of an insufficiently strong building code. The best way to prepare for a disaster is to build stronger, better, more resilient buildings and infrastructure so that the community is less vulnerable to losses in the first place. Towns that wish to do better than meeting acceptable standards of loss can improve their building codes, which will ensure that a majority of structures and the hidden infrastructure remains intact.

Studies have shown that every dollar spent on hazard mitigation saves an average of four dollars in property damage from disasters. According to Steve Szoke, director of codes and standards at the Portland Cement Association, “We’ve seen the devastating damage of Super Storm Sandy and the battered Jersey shore, or when a tornado rips through Arkansas,” and these major storms that have happened within the last five years have “caused billions in damages.” Calling for stronger codes,” Szoke says, “would allow for communities to bounce back sooner after another disaster.”

The yearly direct cost of property lost or destroyed in a natural disaster tops $35 billion. Despite the obvious benefits of stronger building codes, many communities in disaster-prone areas have yet to strengthen their building codes. States and cities do not react by building stronger homes and structures after a tornado, hurricane, or earthquake.

Worse yet, the current building codes represent the minimum requirements for construction, which ensures only the lowest acceptable level of quality.  The National Trust for Historic Preservation estimates that 82 billion square feet of our current building stock will have been demolished and replaced at least once by 2030, because buildings aren’t built to last any longer.

To mitigate these catastrophic losses, it takes comprehensive community planning and codes that yield solid, robust buildings. In addition to meeting the bare minimum safety standards, upgraded building codes are a good financial move. Adopting the most recent version of the International Code Council’s building codes will enhance a community’s economic viability by decreasing the negative financial impact of disaster damage.

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