Costly Disasters Prompt Focus on Mitigation Activities

The destruction wrought by Hurricanes Florence and Michael this year again highlight the need for the federal government, states and communities to be proactive in mitigating natural hazards. Surveys of the areas affected by Hurricane Michael found that many homes strengthened by low-cost reinforcements were left intact. Making a structure resilient to natural hazards is far less expensive than repairing or rebuilding after a disaster — and a report from the National Institute of Building Sciences found that each dollar spent on hazard mitigation can save the nation six dollars in disaster recovery costs. As part of its response to 2017’s disasters, Congress provided a set aside in HUD’s Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) Program for mitigation activities in states and cities where there have been major disaster declarations in recent years. Enterprise has submitted a set of ten recommendations to HUD on how to maximize its investments in mitigation.

Congress also showed that it is taking notice of the incredible need for more hazard mitigation when passing the Disaster Recovery Reform Act. That bill took a significant step in the right direction by authorizing the President to set aside 6 percent of FEMA’s disaster relief funds for a pre-disaster mitigation fund that would award grants to states, tribes, and territories on a competitive basis. All fifty states, in addition to Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, had major disaster declarations between 2012 and 2018. If utilized, the set-aside could significantly increase federal pre-disaster mitigation funding. An Enterprise blog post summarizes mitigation provisions in the Disaster Recovery Reform Act. Enterprise’s Senior Vice President for Public Policy and Senior Advisor for Resilience Marion McFadden told Bloomberg that “Members of Congress are taking this very seriously. They don’t want to throw good money after bad.” FEMA Administrator Brock Long also emphasized the importance of meaningful building codes at the state and local levels, in addition to the federal government needing to reinstate flood risk standards and reform the National Flood Insurance Program.

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