FLASH 2013- Mitigation in motion

Since man's early existence, shelter has provided protection and comfort which in turn has prolonged survival. Today, in addition to providing shelter, homeownership has become a symbol of independence and success. Consequently, care is given to maintain and preserve it.In addition to basic upkeep, some people improve their home in more substantial ways. Mitigation is the effort to reduce loss of life and property resulting from disasters by taking action before it is needed. From utilizing stronger building methods and materials to discouraging construction in harmful places, effective mitigation stems from successful risk management practices.

The Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH®) is the country's leading consumer advocate for strengthening homes and safeguarding families from natural and manmade disasters. Together with likeminded professionals and organizations, FLASH encourages people to build or retrofit buildings that are constructed with disaster safety in mind. By implementing long term mitigation strategies, communities reduce disaster losses and break the cycle of disaster damage, reconstruction, and repeated damage.

Methods and materials

Although buildings have evolved from primitive structures to complex works of art, a perfect structure has yet to be built. Flawed building materials and methods continuously challenge engineers, contractors, and other professionals who seek to remedy the damage that faulty materials and methods can cause. The International Code Council (ICC) develops building codes and standards that promote construction of safe and resilient buildings. Once the codes are approved, they are adopted by most states and then modified to accommodate special conditions such as snow, wind, high water, and seismic activity. Because Florida is exposed to high winds during hurricanes, structural integrity is a must. As a result, roofing materials may require additional fasteners as well as additional framing members that help brace against the impact of the wind. In addition to the roof, walls must be properly connected at the top and bottom to ensure a continuous load path. Impact resistant windows also help prevent damage caused by hurricanes. When mitigating a house against a natural disaster, these are some items that are addressed during retrofitting or rebuilding in Florida.

 Location, location, location

Although private citizens should have abundant freedom to decide how to use their land, it can be argued that sometimes land needs to be preserved in its natural state. For example, homes built in certain flood prone areas can suffer repetitive damage. This is lose/lose for homeowners and insurers because it translates to high insurance premiums. The public also loses because they are often called upon to make concessions. Mitigating against future losses requires sound public policy that addresses both existing and future land development in particularly disaster-prone areas. Flawed policies in the past include subsidizing the development of wetlands. Re-nourishing beaches that are constantly washed away is also wasteful, except of course, to the few homeowners who benefit.  Effective mitigation requires that we all understand risk of faulty practices before we make difficult decisions that effect a community's wellbeing. 

The dollars and sense of it all

There is financial value in building smarter and stronger. A recent study by the Center for American Progress estimates that from 2011 to 2013, the federal government spent $136 billion total on disaster recovery and relief, which adds up to nearly $400 per American household per year. For those homeowners who take measures to mitigate their properties against loss, insurance premium discounts are often available. Lynne McChristian of the Insurance Information Institute (iii) says, "Insurance premium costs are based on the cost of claims.  When people build stronger buildings, and don't build them in risky places, then the damage costs related to natural disasters will decline."  It means insurers and consumers share the benefits of lower risk, and that translates into lower insurance costs. In addition to insurers, there may be other private industry and government funded incentives. Rebuild Northwest Florida's FEMA grant program is one of several programs available to homeowners. With extreme weather events on the rise, experts agree that mitigation is essential to the resiliency of a community. Hardening building to resist nature's fury will reduce financial and social costs and enhance  public safety and economic welfare.

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