Building Science Disaster Support: Turning Research into Tangible Benefits for All

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In January, the Building Science Disaster Support Program deployed a team of subject matter experts to southwest Florida. Referred to as a Mitigation Assessment Team (MAT), these thirty-two professionals from across the federal family, as well as the state, private sector and other organizations, leveraged their combined knowledge in the field to observe Hurricane Ian’s effects on the built environment.  

The MAT divided into multiple teams to canvass over five counties. The teams traveled throughout the identified areas to assess the performance of residential, non-residential buildings and structures subjected to the hurricane’s winds, surge, debris impact and flood loads.

Team members also spoke frequently with the residents, capturing their experiences during the storm as well as details about their recovery efforts. Although not a complete or exhaustive list, the teams were particularly interested in observing:

  • How newer construction faired in comparison to nearby, older buildings.
  • How constructions resulting from mitigation projects performed.
  • The performance of critical facilities such as hospitals and long-term care facilities.

The observations these teams made in the field are simply the beginning. Over the next twelve months, the team will work tirelessly to turn the observations into empirically backed conclusions and, ultimately, make recommendations to improve building, utility and community resilience on the local and state levels. Moreover, these recommendations are significant at the national level and can help improve federal policies by incorporating building codes and standards.

Charles Baker, a member of the Hurricane Ian MAT and a Program Analyst with FEMA’s Floodplain Management Directorate, says the work is vital for creating a more resilient nation. “We’re here to look at performance measures of structures to see how we can reduce risk in the future,” said Baker.

As a result of the far-reaching implications of a MAT, it is crucial that the leadership at local and state levels, as well as FEMA itself, continue to support the program’s implementation. It is also important that we act fast to deploy these types of teams. The teams need to see the damage and debris before homeowners and communities begin their recovery efforts. Arriving during that period allows them to collect the best available information in order to make recommendations that will improve resilience.

The Building Science Disaster Support Program and its Mitigation Assessment Teams are a unique function that is not replicated elsewhere in FEMA. The Program is positioned to continue making positive impacts nationwide by drawing on FEMA's authorities, mission and a cadre of subject matter expertise.

FEMA anticipates the findings from the Hurricane Ian MAT deployment will reinforce the conclusions of past studies such as the National Institute of Building Science’s Natural Hazards Mitigation Saves Study (2019) and FEMA’s own Building Codes Save Study: A Nationwide Study of Loss Prevention (2020). These studies prove that natural hazard-resistant building codes and standards save lives and money, and most importantly, help break the cycle of loss caused by disasters.

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