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Evidence Suggests US Really Needs to Spend Money on Natural Disaster Mitigation

There are huge, selfish benefits

SCIENCE AF STAFF
15 JAN 2018
 

For every dollar the US government spends preparing for natural disasters, the nation saves six dollars in future disaster costs, according to a new report from the National Institute of Building Sciences.

 

The report comes at a crucial time: It was released just one day after NOAA declared 2017 the costliest year on record for weather and climate disasters, which totalled a whopping 306.2 billion dollars.

The ongoing study provides much-needed evidence for federal policymaking which seeks to reduce the risks of natural disasters before they arrive.

The hard data suggests, if these policies are put into place, the pay-off to society will be massive.

"The nation is already reeling from the financial burden climate change imposes," said Shana Udvardy, a climate preparedness specialist at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), in a statement.

"This new report shows that the best way to limit future costs is by investing now not only to increase the safety of communities, but also to save taxpayer dollars later."

The ongoing study examined the results of 23 years of federally funded mitigation grants, which help fund research into flood resistance, wind resistance, earthquake resistance and fire resistance.

The study also looked at scenarios that focus specifically on new building models, which exceed the 2015 building requirements developed by the International Code Council. 

 

The findings reveal investing in such building models can not only save the nation four dollars for every dollar spent, it would greatly benefit the housing economy. For instance, such measures would provide 87,000 new, long-term jobs and a 1 percent increase in the use of American-produced construction material.

In combination, both public-sector mitigation and new housing models will prevent 600 deaths, 1 million nonfatal injuries and 4,000 cases of post-traumatic stress disorder in the long term.

"The benefit-cost ratio for federal grants has increased from 4-to-1 to 6-to-1 over the last 13 years, and is only expected to grow as the extreme weather events fueled by climate change increase in frequency and strength," said Udvardy.

Natural disasters present significant risks to communities across the US – just look at the devastation caused by wildfires and hurricanes in 2017 – and scientists say these hazards will only get worse with climate change.

Nevertheless, the Trump administration has removed climate change as a National Security Threat and their proposed budget would cut hundreds of millions of dollars from disaster relief programs.

The new study suggests this is not the right tactic for both American public health and the economy.

 

The researchers working on the study acknowledge the upfront cost for these construction costs may be prohibitive, no matter how necessary. To overcome these monetary obstacles, the experts propose the federal government should fund mitigation efforts through incentivization.

"There will be many opportunities in 2018 for President Trump and Congress to support pre-disaster mitigation efforts," said Udvardy.

"The budget, disaster relief proposals and the forthcoming infrastructure bill are just some of the many opportunities to invest in pre-disaster mitigation and reduce the skyrocketing costs of climate change."

The full and ongoing study, titled Natural Hazard Mitigation Saves: 2017 Interim Report, can be read here.