Along with funding the federal government through September, the $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill President Donald Trump signed into law last month includes National Ready Mixed Concrete Association-advocated positions or directives for agencies influencing residential and commercial building design.
Passages in the law echo reports of U.S. House and Senate committees overseeing the Departments of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Commerce and Homeland Security. HUD-directed language defines resilient construction methods as those that “(1) allow a structure to resist hazards brought on by a major disaster, (2) allow a structure to continue to provide the primary functions of the structure following a major disaster, (3) reduce the magnitude or duration of a disruptive event to a structure, and (4) allow the structure to have the absorptive capacity, adaptive capacity, and recoverability to withstand a potentially disruptive event.”
“The [House Transportation, Housing and Urban Development] Committee supports enhanced resiliency for new construction and renovation [and] urges HUD to study technologies, elements, and materials that create more resilient single and multi-family homes such as lean manufacturing, safe rooms, and alternative materials to improve durability and safety during natural disasters,” the law states.
NRMCA Government Affairs staff cites additional aspects that will help proponents of sound construction methods in federal agency outreach. The Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is urged to study building codes and make recommendations on fortified structures.
“Disaster Resilient Buildings” commentary from a Senate committee report encourages the use of resilient construction techniques above and beyond building code requirements. “The Committee recognizes the importance of industry and municipal standards to better mitigate the impact of natural disasters and extreme weather events, which can save lives, reduce destruction to property, and enable faster economic recovery,” it states. “Current building codes often do not provide the necessary protection against natural hazards, particularly with regard to enabling immediate occupancy after a significant earthquake, hurricane, tornado, flood, or other natural disaster.
“The Committee supports efforts to promote the use of engineering design and construction techniques to improve the resiliency of buildings, homes, and infrastructure, and encourages NIST to partner with academic research institutions and industry stakeholders that have expertise in mitigating the effects of natural disasters to study and recommend best practices for resilient planning and construction.”
Another committee report covering Homeland Security prompts the Federal Emergency Management Agency to consider adopting uniform guidelines on safe rooms for federally funded structures in areas prone to severe weather and hazards, plus uniform national guidelines for safe room design and construction.
LAWMAKERS TUNE TO DISASTER MITIGATION, FUNDING REFORM
A recent hearing of the U.S. House Transportation & Infrastructure (T&I) Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management saw the BuildStrong Coalition weigh in on mitigating damage and recovering quickly from disasters as part of the T&I Building a 21st Century Infrastructure for America plan.
BuildStrong Senior Advisor and former Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator (2005-2009) R. David Paulison highlighted the need for reforming the nation’s disaster spending model to focus on mitigation through such actions as enhancing pre-disaster mitigation funding; consolidating disaster spending under FEMA; and, creating a post-disaster mitigation incentive that rewards states with modern building codes. He also advocated reforming the federal-state disaster cost share system by reducing federal exposure from 75 percent to 60 percent, and allowing states to buy up their federal share by taking certain mitigation steps—among them adopting and enforcing a statewide building code.
“We have a moment to make America resilient again and save both lives and taxpayer dollars,” Paulison assured committee members. “In my 35 years of dealing with natural disasters at the federal, state, and local levels, I can tell you that our federal policy regarding disasters does not do nearly enough to prevent infrastructure failure before a disaster strikes.”
Nationwide Property and Casualty Operations President and COO Mark Berven cited the need to reform policy behind disaster spending, indicating that the federal government’s current approach has “left communities across the nation vulnerable ahead of the next storm.” He also highlighted the prospect of improving the nation’s infrastructure as an opportunity for the Trump Administration and Congress to create a lasting impact on enhancing disaster resiliency.
The BuildStrong Coalition is a group of firefighters, emergency responders, insurers, engineers, architects, contractors and manufacturers, as well as consumer organizations, code specialists, and other stakeholders committed to building a more resilient America.
“With the growing impact of natural disasters on communities around the country and the start of Atlantic hurricane season on the horizon, it is critical that we do more to proactively limit the damage caused by these events,” said BuildStrong Chairman Jimi Grande, noting how the coalition applauds Subcommittee Chairman Lou Barletta (R-PA) and Ranking Member Henry C. Johnson, Jr. (D-GA) for “taking a serious look at this issue to ensure investment in our country’s infrastructure protects America’s homes and businesses in the face of a rising number of severe storms.”