Earlier this year, I wrote a column about plumbing and mechanical engineers playing an important role in natural disaster mitigation. The topic bears repeating because FEMA just released a new landmark study: “Building Codes Save: A Nationwide Study.”
The report states one of the most cost-effective ways to safeguard communities against natural disasters — tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, fires and floods — is to adopt and follow hazard-resistant building codes. These codes not only reduce casualties, but limit the cost of building damage during a natural disaster.
Per the report, since 1980, the average number of billion-dollar disasters has been six per year. From 2016 to 2018, that number jumped to 15 per year. All of the relevant data supports this statement. This year became one of the deadliest tornado seasons on record — a fact I pointed to in my earlier column. 2020 also had a record-breaking Atlantic hurricane season with 30 named storms overall (13 of which became hurricanes), and 12 landfalling storms in the continental U.S. This is the most storms on record, surpassing the 28 named storms from 2005, and the second-highest number of hurricanes on record, according to NOAA.
These are not the type of records we want to be breaking. And here’s the bad news: According to the experts, these natural disaster events will continue to plague the U.S. with more frequency and force.
States like California and Florida have had modern, hazard-resistant building codes on the books since the 1990s. Other states have since followed suit, but per FEMA, 65% of counties, cities and towns across the U.S. still have not adopted modern building codes. Now, that’s a scary thought.
As engineers, you have a responsibility to design buildings and specify equipment that meets local building codes. But shouldn’t you go one step further and ensure your designs meet hazard-resistant building codes?
Cost is often the deciding factor for the building owner, but adopting these modern codes may not break the bank. Per FEMA, construction features that allow buildings to survive natural disasters cost just 1% to 2% of total building construction costs. It seems like a small price to pay to ensure the safety of the building tenants and the survival of the building itself. FEMA reports California’s modern building codes will save $1.8 billion in property losses over 20 years during earthquake and flooding events.
I highly encourage our readers to read the entire study — it really is fascinating. Plus, it provides great data and talking points for when you sit down with clients to explain why they need their building to meet hazard-resistant building codes.