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FEMA is working for stronger building codes nationwide

Wall of wind announce

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On the first day of the Atlantic hurricane season, federal officials announced a new initiative to modernize building codes across the country so that communities can be more resistant to hurricanes, floods, fires and other extreme weather events that are intensifying due to climate change.

Deanne Criswell, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and Ali Zaidi, deputy national climate adviser to President Joe Biden, discussed the initiative Wednesday during a conference at the National Hurricane Center in Miami, where Hurricane Andrew caused 26 damage. billions of dollars in 1992, and recovering from a similar hit could cost hundreds of billions today.

Nearly two in three communities in the United States have outdated building codes and are therefore vulnerable to climate impact and higher energy costs, officials said. The initiative is designed to help state, local, tribal and territorial governments adopt current building codes and standards, enabling communities to be more resilient to hurricanes, floods, fires and other extreme weather events that are exacerbated by climate change.

The updated building codes offer a range of smart design and construction methods that “save lives, reduce property damage and lower utility bills,” according to the National Building Codes Advancement Initiative. It applies to new construction and to houses and buildings that are being rebuilt due to damage.

“Adopting hazardous building codes saves communities $ 11 for every dollar invested,” Criswell said, citing a finding by the National Institute of Building Sciences.

The initiative, approved by the National Climate Task Force earlier this year, comes amid signs that coastal communities should prepare for more severe storms. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has predicted 14 to 21 Atlantic-named storms this season, with six to 10 hurricanes and three to six major hurricane turbochargers with winds of more than 110 mph (177 km / h). ).

It has already started with Agatha, a storm that has hit Mexico in recent days that could reform in the Gulf of Mexico and threaten parts of Florida by this weekend, the hurricane center said.

“This initiative is proof that action on climate change benefits all Americans, especially in our most vulnerable communities,” said Gina McCarthy, the president’s national climate adviser.

The program is designed to help buildings withstand the damage caused by all natural disasters, including wildfires, tornadoes, and flooding.

The codes ensure, for example, that roofs can withstand the hurricane-force wind, that building materials are resistant to flood damage, and that insulation helps reduce heating and cooling costs, officials said.

Education will be a key element. A FEMA analysis found that only 35% of cities, counties and cities across the country have updated hazardous building codes. Cost is a factor: building and renovating designed for disaster resistance can be more expensive. But the estimated savings for typical households on utility bills alone could be about $ 162 a year, officials said.

And on a larger scale, communities that have adopted modern building codes are already saving about $ 1.6 billion a year in damage from major disasters, officials said. This equates to a cumulative $ 132 billion by 2040, which will not have to be spent on disaster recovery.

Federal agencies will use $ 225 million in funding for infrastructure already approved by the U.S. Department of Energy to support state code adoption, enforcement, training, and technical assistance. The federal plan will also review federal funding for construction projects to ensure that they meet modern construction standards.

The agencies said they intend to lead by example, implementing the new codes in federal buildings.

The program was announced at Florida International’s famous Wall of Wind facility, which tests building materials for Category 5 hurricane winds. The FIU noted that the facility has already improved building codes. Researchers have found, for example, that the use of ring rod nails has made shingles much more resistant to hurricane winds. Nails are now standard in Florida.

Florida has historically led the way in wind resistance building codes, but critics say more changes are needed, including the need for advanced roofs to prevent leaks. The Florida legislature last week approved accelerated changes to the state code, which will no longer require a complete roof replacement if only a small portion of the roof surface is damaged.

Photo: Officials announce building code initiative at FIU’s Wall of Wind facility. (FIU)

Copyright 2022 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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