Value Of Natural Hazard Mitigation Investments Focus Of NIBS Report

November 07, 2018
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The National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS) has issued its latest report in a multi-year study on natural hazard mitigation. The second in a series of interim results, Natural Hazard Mitigation Saves: Utilities and Transportation Infrastructure, examines the potential benefits associated with investing in mitigation for select utility and transportation infrastructure. It offers keen insights for smart city planners, developers, municipal staff, and elected officials.

Natural hazards present significant risks to many communities across the United States, according to an October 30 news release. Fortunately, noted the report, there are measures governments, building owners, developers, tenants and others can take to reduce the impacts of such events. These measures—commonly called mitigation—can result in significant savings in terms of safety, and prevent property loss and disruption of day-to-day life. The sponsors of the study include FEMA, HUD, EDA, ICC, the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS), the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and the American Institute of Architects (AIA).

The team leading the project sought to use Economic Development Administration (EDA) grants to look at how the agency’s mitigation efforts to address four potential perils and four categories of utilities and infrastructure might benefit communities. Of the 859 EDA grants the project team reviewed, only 16 related to natural-hazard mitigation of utilities and transportation lifelines. Of these, the team acquired sufficient data to estimate benefit cost ratios (BCRs) for 12 mitigation investments.

According to a report overview issued by the Washington, D.C.-based organization, because too few EDA grants were available to provide statistical value, those involved in the study modified its objectives to analyze the grants as case studies. Since the grants did not represent all common retrofit measures (particularly in regard to earthquakes), the project team also analyzed potential mitigation measures to address the gaps. The report noted that, while not statistically valid, these grants, when viewed as case studies, offer anecdotal evidence of the potential value of such types of mitigation.

The project team studied 12 EDA grants, including:

  • Flood mitigation for roads and railroads (five grants), with BCRs ranging between 2.0 and 11.0 for four grants and one grant exhibiting a BCR of 0.2.
  • Flood mitigation for water and wastewater facilities (four grants), which produced BCRs between 1.3 and 31.0.
  • Wind mitigation for electric and telecommunications (two grants). These grants were estimated to produce BCRs of approximately 8.5.
  • Flood mitigation for electric and telecommunications (one grant). This grant produced an estimated BCR of 9.4.

The report summary also highlighted the following key insights:

  • In light of the unexpectedly limited grant data, the project team supplemented the analysis of grants by studying a few leading options for natural-hazard mitigation of utilities and transportation infrastructure. These included:
  • Replacing specific water supply pipeline segments to create a “resilient water-supply grid” that better resists earthquakes. (At least two West Coast water utilities are designing a resilient grid.) Team members estimated this measure would save up to $8 per $1 spent, depending on local seismic hazard.
  • Strengthening electric substation equipment to better resist earthquake loads and to create a “resilient electric grid.” (At least three West Coast electric utilities are developing a resilient electric grid.) The project team estimated this measure would save up to $8 per $1 spent, depending on local seismic hazard.
  • Strengthening highway bridges to better resist earthquake loads. This measure would produce a benefit of $3 per $1 spent, noted the report.
  • Performing prescribed burns in the watershed of water utilities to reduce wildfire and inhibit soil-carrying runoff that can cause turbidity in reservoirs. The participants found that this measure is unlikely to be cost effective, and that water utilities have less-expensive options available to address turbidity resulting from runoff after wildfires.

History of NIBS Mitigation Reports

More than a decade after releasing its original report on mitigation, the National Institute of Building Sciences began a multi-year study on natural hazard mitigation. As it has with this latest report, issued October, 2018, the Institute will release a series of reports as it completes its finding. The NIBS also reported that in January 2018, the Institute issued Natural Hazard Mitigation Saves: 2017 Interim Report. The 2017 Interim Report highlights the benefits of two mitigation strategies.

The Institute's project team looked at the results of 23 years of federally funded mitigation grants provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and found mitigation funding can save the nation $6 in future disaster costs for every $1 spent on hazard mitigation.

In addition, the project team looked at scenarios that focus on designing new buildings to exceed provisions of the 2015 model building codes. The 2017 Interim Report demonstrates that investing in hazard mitigation measures to exceed select requirements of the 2015 International Codes (I-Codes), the model building codes developed by the International Code Council (ICC), can save the nation $4 for every $1 spent.

The project team estimated that just implementing these two sets of mitigation strategies would prevent 600 deaths, 1 million nonfatal injuries and 4,000 cases of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the long term. In addition, designing new buildings to exceed the 2015 International Building Code (IBC) and International Residential Code (IRC) would result in 87,000 new, long-term jobs and an approximate 1 percent increase in utilization of domestically produced construction material.

About the Institute

The National Institute of Building Sciences, based in Washington, D.C., defines itself as “an authoritative source of innovative solutions for the built environment.”

Established by the United States Congress, the Institute’s mission is to unite the entire building community in advancing building science and technology. The National Institute of Building Sciences was authorized by the U.S. Congress in the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974. In establishing the Institute, the organization notes that Congress "recognized the need for an organization that could serve as an interface between government and the private sector. The Institute's public interest mission is to serve the Nation by supporting advances in building science and technology to improve the built environment. Through the Institute, Congress established a public/private partnership to enable findings on technical, building-related matters to be used effectively to improve government, commerce and industry."

The Institute is a non-profit, non-governmental organization bringing together representatives of government, the professions, industry, labor and consumer interests to focus on the identification and resolution of problems and potential problems that hamper the construction of safe, affordable structures for housing, commerce and industry throughout the United States. According to its website, the Institute provides an authoritative source of advice for both the private and public sector of the economy with respect to the use of building science and technology. Congress recognized that the lack of such an authoritative voice was a burden on all those who plan, design, procure, construct, use, operate, maintain and retire physical facilities, and that this burden frequently resulted from failure to take full advantage of new useful technology that could improve our living environment.

NIBS operates with a balanced blend of public and private funding. Private sector contributions and membership dues are augmented by contracts and grants with federal and state agencies and the sales of Institute publications, notes the organization’s overview. These funds have made possible numerous programs which have brought together the nation's finest expertise available from the public and private sectors to identify and resolve issues affecting the building process. This blend of public and private funding and the Institute's balance and representation requirements assures that no single interest area will dominate or hold undue influence over the Institute and its work and assures the maintenance and free exchange of information and views between the private and public sectors.

Natural Hazard Mitigation Saves: Utilities and Transportation Infrastructure is an independent work, funded with the support of public- and private-organizations interested in expanding the understanding of the benefits of hazard mitigation.

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