Mitigation: How It Can Save Lives, Property and Taxpayer Money – My view from the field

Mitigation Planning – can significantly reduce the damage caused by storms as well as decrease the money and heartache spent post storm both of which are precious. The states that don’t adopt adequate mitigation practices are vulnerable to having to deal with a lot of damage in case a storm strikes in the future. We see the benefits of great planning in every storm, the last house standing is there for a reason. The reason is a will to do just a little more in a rational use of present dollars to eliminate or reduce risk of future challenge. When the future challenge is water rushing into your living quarters or washing away your belongings or your people,  the decision to elevate in original construction or part of a mitigation should be a no brainier. I unfortunately see the effects of poor planning in my daily drive and it makes no sense long run. The biggest driver I see in the field is flood and left over building codes from the 70,s 80s and 90s. If we can elevate our wood structures out of the floodplain and design them to stay stuck past 140 mph I suggest we are in good shape for the next decades. 
Without a thorough adoption of strong mitigation, the amount of federal spending on disaster relief and cleanup will continue to increase on and on. In 2019 we are faced with a 91 billion dollar expected cost of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and 125 billion in Houston including plans to protect Galveston Bay. Like the old politician said you keep putting those numbers together your run into some real money. 

What is storm mitigation?
Mitigation involves all the efforts to decrease the loss of property and life by reducing the impact of storms. In order for mitigation to actually be effective and work, it must be adopted now, before the next catastrophic storm.  Keeping in mind that tropical storms and hurricanes don’t give us much notice, if we are not prepared, the consequences can be devastating and fatal as we have seen throughout 2017’s active season.
Obviously, nothing can be done to prevent the next storm. However, steps can certainly be taken to reduce its devastating effects by being prepared through mitigation efforts. Taking a storm as devastating as Hurricane Harvey for example; to prep, a series of steps must be taken that minimize the effects of future natural hazards, such as tornados, hurricanes and their resulting floods, and severe winter storms.

Preparedness in the form of pre-storm mitigation can save lives as well as millions of dollars in taxpayer money. In fact, a study conducted by FEMA concluded that for every dollar spent on pre-storm mitigation, the US saves four dollars through preparation that they do not have to spend post-event. Moreover, research conducted on the effects of Hurricane Katrina has shown that the Hurricane’s impact and cost could have been reduced by up to 80% had proper preparation been carried out prior to the storm making landfall. Strong building codes, such as the ones that have been in use within the Gulf Region for years, when implemented, can significantly reduce the wind damage caused by storms thus saving lives and money in the event of a storm.

 

Nailing Pattern
Nailing patters on Plywood

For mitigation to be effective, it is imperative that we understand that investing now for the long term well-being of the community is essential. Mitigation involves preparation and forecasting at different stages. There are steps that are more long term and have to carried out for years to come, as well as ones that can we can begin immediately. These items involve everything from structural changes to the existing infrastructure, improved regional planning, as well as a massive change in the governmental policies pertaining to hazard management.

Keep in mind that recovery efforts post-storm can end up being significantly costlier than mitigation efforts. However, the latter has gone unaddressed and inadequately funded for too long in the US. We cannot continue to simply throw tax dollars at the problem after these storms hit. In fact, it has been estimated that while government spending on recovery efforts has been $300 billion, it has only cost $600 million for pre-storm mitigation. This indicates that government fails to understand the long term value of investing in these efforts now and are willing to spend billions more in the form of recovery due to its own negligence after the fact.When discussing mitigation it is also important to point out that these efforts can be categorized into two different types: Non-structural and Structural.

 

Straps
Structural Hardening

Structural Measures

These are the mitigation measures that involve the development of infrastructure that is “disaster-proof.” It can be carried out mainly through repair and replacements of existing infrastructure, involving the following:

Flood Abatement
This is one of the best-known mitigation practices for hurricanes. It is an attempt to decrease the impact of floods by reducing overland run off in the headwaters.

Reservoirs
A flood control reservoir is meant to store a a portion of the flood flows in order to to minimize the flood peaks at the areas that are to be hit by the storm. Houston consists of two reservoirs: Barker and Addicks. Both of these were not designed to hold the capacity of volume they were forced to try to over the past three years. They are both in dire need of repair and have been called unsafe by engineers. The repairs require around $100 million and have gone unaddressed to date.

 

Cribbing
Ducky Johnson’s group elevating structures out of the floodplain in Pensacola Fl.

Non-Structural Measures

Non-structural mitigation efforts are ones that are not based on making massive changes to the existing infrastructure but instead involve steps like proper regional planning, flood insurance policies, and updated Flood Plain Maps.

City/Regional Planning
This is the aspect of mitigation that has gone unaddressed in Houston, which has had a very rapid rate of growth without a proper plan in place. All of this has also increased the flow of floodwater into drainage systems, reservoirs and buyouts. Proper regional planning involves mapping out towns and states with full consideration of how they will possibly be affected by a potential natural hazard, and then writing/updating the infrastructure and building codes accordingly.

Updated Flood Plain Maps
Flood Plain Maps are created by FEMA in cooperation with the local officials as well as the state for every community in the US. These maps highlight the areas that are especially prone to floods and also include the ones with a lesser flood risk. The regions that are most prone to flooding are categorized under risk premium zones – and insurance companies charge more in these areas due to the increased risks. Based on recent storms and weather patterns it would be wise to revisit these and update them regularly.

 

Complete is a licensed general contracting and forensic engineering firm with over 25 years’ experience as building consultants, performing everything from hard construction & hurricane restoration to appraiser/umpire services in the insurance claims appraisal process.

 

Citation:

https://www.getagameplan.org/planMitigate.htm