US study confirms mitigation’s cost-effectiveness

EVERY dollar that governments spend on increasing the resilience of existing buildings saves $6 in property losses, health costs, and business interruptions, new US research has found.

The study, commissioned by the National Institute of Building Sciences and led by Keith Porter of the University of Colorado at Boulder, also found  that every $1 spent to exceed building code specifications and make structures more hazard-resistant in the future potentially saves $4 in the long run.

The study estimated that over the next 75 years, such mitigation measures could prevent 600 deaths, one million injuries, and 4000 cases of post-traumatic stress disorder in the US.

“We wanted to find out what would happen if the goal of codes were to protect human life and to have the most resilient building stock possible that still makes economic sense,” Professor Porter said.

A 2005 version of the study found that for every $1 the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) spent to fortify existing buildings, taxpayers saved $4.

That study has been instrumental in convincing governments around the world to invest in natural hazards mitigation. But the new expanded study suggests it underestimated how cost effective it can be.

For the revision, Porter and a national team of scientists calculated how much the US federal government spent on mitigation over the past 23 years.

The team then used probabilistic risk assessment to calculate how much expense that mitigation avoided or will avoid. In addition to looking at earthquakes, hurricane winds, and river flooding, they looked at fire at the wildland-urban interface (a growing problem in Colorado and California) and hurricane storm surge, which caused the bulk of damage from Hurricane Harvey in Texas in 2017.

In addition to property and business losses, the new study included less obvious costs like treating post-traumatic stress disorder, losing access to fire stations and hospitals, and paying search and rescue workers.