As fire chief of Miami-Dade County during Hurricane Andrew, I know how important it is to prepare our communities to withstand the force of Mother Nature. Hurricane Andrew hit south Florida in 1992 and was one of the deadliest and costliest hurricanes in U.S. history. It destroyed 25,524 homes, caused more than $16 billion in total insured damages and left over 160,000 Dade County residents temporarily homeless.
The effects of Hurricane Andrew were devastating, but they also taught us important lessons about how to build our communities in a responsible manner. A grand-jury report concluded that an “inadequate building code” and “inadequate inspections by building officials” led to the extreme damage in the area during the 1992 hurricane. Our community learned from its mistakes and took steps to prevent a repeat of Hurricane Andrew’s devastating effects.
In fact, in 2002, the Florida Building Code was created, and today Florida has the best building code in the country.
Despite Florida’s progress, most states in the U.S. continue to lag behind in the adoption and enforcement of strong, statewide building codes. In fact, only 11 states in the U.S. have such code systems in place today. This failure to prepare our states results in significantly higher fatalities and damages when disaster strikes.
Multiple studies have shown that strong, statewide building codes are our first and best line of defense when fighting natural disasters. In fact, not only do they save lives and property; they are also a fiscally smart move. Studies have concluded that every $1 spent on predisaster mitigation measures saves taxpayers $4 on recovery costs.
Since 1983, the U.S. has spent nearly $1 trillion on disaster recovery and rebuilding, and more than 10% of that—$137 billion—was spent in just the past four years.
Despite these alarming numbers, the federal government invested just $22 million in predisaster mitigation between 2011 and 2013, correlating to $1 spent on mitigation for every $6 spent on recovery during that same period.
As the costs of natural disasters continue to climb, I have to question why we would choose to spend billions on post-disaster recovery while rebuilding our communities to the same, outdated standards that left them vulnerable in the first place.
It’s my firm belief that we need to take action to protect our communities and save lives, and we know that mitigation—through the adoption of model-building codes—will do this while saving our country billions.
Because of this, I support HR 1748, a bill introduced earlier this year by my fellow Floridian, U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart.
The Safe Building Code Incentive Act (HR 1748) provides a powerful incentive for states to adopt and enforce model statewide codes by providing the ones that do an additional 4% in post-disaster FEMA grants. This bill will protect our communities by drastically reducing natural disaster-inflicted destruction while simultaneously reducing long-term costs over time.
We can’t stop natural disasters from occurring. However, as a former fire chief and FEMA administrator, I have witnessed the difference that planning ahead makes in minimizing destruction and protecting the homes and lives of our communities and first responders. This is why I support the Safe Building Code Incentive Act, and I strongly urge you to do the same.