As we prepare for the upcoming hurricane season during response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, you may want to consider the importance of building codes. One thing COVID-19 has reminded us is that home or essential office spaces are the places we may feel safest. It puts a finer point on why the structural safety of these places must be of the highest standard.
Every year FEMA recognizes the month of May as Building Safety Month. This year’s theme Safer Buildings, Safer Communities, Safer World is a reminder that the use and enforcement of up-to-date building codes, specifications and standards will enhance community resiliency while saving money and lives. In recent years, we have seen natural disasters devastate communities and destroy homes and businesses. Damage costs exceeded $135 billion in 2018 - 19 and affected tens of millions of Americans. Modern building codes are essential for building a resilient Nation. From architects to engineers to builders, the adoption and enforcement of building codes ensure sound construction and help build a culture of preparedness.
Minimum model building codes are more disaster-resistant than ever and constructing to the latest model codes protects building occupants and the nation’s infrastructure investments. An April 2020 National Institute of Building Sciences study found that adopting modern model building codes saves $11 for every $1 invested through earthquake, flood, and wind mitigation benefits, with a $4 to $1 wildfire mitigation benefit. These are more than just numbers. This considerable savings represents avoided casualties, less post-traumatic stress disorder, reduced property damage, fewer business interruptions, lower insurance premiums and quantifies the significant role modern codes have in protecting us from the destructive forces of disasters whether from nature or elsewhere.
But the truth is the nation can do more to maximize these benefits through broader adoption and enforcement of these codes across the country. A different set of data from inspect2protect.org reveals that unfortunately, nearly two-thirds of our nation’s jurisdictions do not currently have a recent edition of the model codes in place, with the minimum hazard provisions intact. This gap is a risk that we must work to close in order to achieve uniformity and resiliency nationwide.
How do we close the gap?
It starts with awareness. A recent survey by the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes, Inc. (FLASH), a non-profit disaster safety organization, found that 8 out of 10 Americans don’t worry about building codes, incorrectly assuming that they’re already protected living under strong building codes in their community.
FEMA places a strong emphasis on building codes because they enhance public safety and property protection. FEMA assistance programs, aided by the Disaster Recovery Reform Act of 2018, are expanding the ways in which building codes are used and incentivized pre- and post-disaster. FEMA is also increasing its stake and broadening its reach on the vital importance of building codes by establishing a building codes working group that will develop an Agency-wide strategy to advance the outreach, training, education, development, adoption and enforcement of disaster-resistant building codes and standards for FEMA-wide programs, ultimately strengthening community resilience nationwide.
How can you make a difference?
More frequent and costly disasters demand that we adapt to the changing environment if we are to reduce disaster suffering. While it is the responsibility of local, state, tribal and territorial governments to enact strong building codes, your voice is essential in this process. Greater public awareness, understanding of building codes and community efforts can make a big difference. You can help by visiting InspectToProtect.org to see what codes your community has adopted. Reach out to your community’s decision makers if you aren’t happy with what you find. Ensuring strong building codes in your area and across the country begins with community members like you.
You can get free resources and learn about the status of building codes in their community by visiting 2020-building-safety-month and InspecttoProtect.org. We all can take part in creating Safer Buildings, Safer Communities and a Safer World.