Source: National Institute of Building Sciences
Source: National Institute of Building Sciences

When I ask donors why they center their disaster giving around immediate relief, a response I frequently receive is that it brings tangible results that they can share with their board and staff. These results often take the form of providing emergency shelter, food and clothing. They can also include the dramatic rescues we see on television. But, where are the heart-warming stories and pictures from activities like preparation and mitigation? And what tangible results do these investments actually have?

A new study released by the National Institutes of Building Sciences in the Natural Hazard Mitigation Saves: 2017 Interim Report finally gives some answers. The full study is well worth a read, but I’d like to share a few of the highlights.

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, changes to building codes could save $4 for every $1 invested.

mitigation
Source: National Institutes of Building Sciences

The project team estimated that implementing new building codes and investing in hazard mitigation measures could 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.

The report gives some concrete examples of public-sector mitigation strategies, such as:

  • Acquiring or demolishing flood-prone buildings.
  • Adding hurricane shutters, tornado safe rooms, and other common measures.
  • Strengthening various structural and nonstructural components.
  • Replacing roofs, managing vegetation to reduce fuels, and replacing wooden water tanks.

This report provides new encouragement for foundations and corporations interested in contributing to efforts for disaster planning, preparation and mitigation. Every dollar you invest in your community for mitigation could save 4 to 6 times that in damage and destruction.

And finally, the report reminds us that disasters are ultimately not just about measurable damages to buildings and property. Disasters destroy memories, ruin families and relationships and often permanently alter a survivor’s way of life. Investments in mitigation efforts not only saves money, they strengthen the collective health and well-being of all of our communities.