The aftermath of a natural disaster is a nightmare situation for any community. At that point, when you're facing destroyed homes and businesses, power outages, and scarcity of resources, the only focus is recovery or fixing those emergency concerns. But what if it were possible, after an earthquake, hurricane, or wildfire, instead of facing the ruins of a broken community, to look around and feel a sense of relief that your community survived?
It's unlikely for a community to avoid all damage after an unpredictable natural disaster, but stronger buildings, built up to code, have a higher likelihood withstanding a natural disaster.
Are your building codes up to date?
Communities with well-enforced, up-to-date building codes and higher construction standards can often reduce catastrophe-related damage, both monetarily and in terms of human suffering.
The status of a community’s adopted building code is an important criterion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) Program, which provides grants for public infrastructure projects.
BRIC grants seek to help mitigate risk to community lifelines—like transportation, containment of hazardous materials, food, water, and shelter—and promote recovery, thus incentivizing modern building codes' adoption and enforcement. The program offers $500 million in competitive grants for completion of these projects, and U.S. states, territories, tribal governments, and the District of Columbia are all eligible to compete for funding.
The grant supports:
- Evaluation, adoption, or implementation of codes that reduce risk
- Enhancing existing codes to incorporate more requirements or higher standards
- Developing professional workforce capabilities through technical assistance and training
The anticipated upshot: resilient buildings, less damage, and fewer losses from catastrophes as illustrated by a recent landmark FEMA study. Building Codes Save: A Nationwide Study of Loss Prevention, which studied 18.1 million buildings constructed nationwide since 2000. About half—9.1 million—avoided losses totaling $1.6 billion because they were erected following stringent building codes. FEMA's study found an opportunity for even more savings because 65 percent of municipalities across the country have not yet adopted modern building codes. In addition, 40 percent to 60 percent of small businesses fail to reopen after a flood or a hurricane, according to FEMA.
FEMA—which works with local and state governments to help communities reduce their risk from natural disasters—has spent 30 years investigating how construction materials and standards affect buildings' ability to withstand such catastrophes. That investigation includes scrutinizing the smallest details, such as the type of nail used to join wood framing.
Calculating savings from building codes
Avoid costly repairs: FEMA's study confirmed that complying with building codes is a highly cost-effective method to prevent catastrophic losses from natural disasters. Using an average home construction cost of $300,000 as an example, the cost to safeguard that home against hurricanes would be $4,500—or 1.5 percent of the total. FEMA estimates the losses avoided each year would be $1,600, adding up to $48,000 after 30 years, well over the increase in construction costs.
Factoring compliance with modern building codes into construction costs adds between 1 percent and 2 percent to a project's overall cost. FEMA estimates that every dollar spent constructing buildings to strict regulations saves $11 in disaster repair and recovery costs.
Reduce interruption to small businesses: The FEMA study also examined the broader benefits of building codes. It revealed that communities with well-enforced, up-to-date codes are more resilient in the wake of disasters. Beyond the significant reductions in damage and related financial loss associated with building codes, communities avoided interruptions to businesses and subsequent loss of jobs.
How ISO's BCEGS can help
Community officials should consider contacting ISO to see if their Building Code Effectiveness Grading Schedule (BCEGS®) classifications are up-to-date, which will assist them in being better-positioned when they apply for the next round of FEMA BRIC funding.
Insurers rely on BCEGS for rating and underwriting because safer buildings withstand natural disasters, leading to lower insured losses from such events. BCEGS assigns communities classifications of 1 (exemplary commitment to building code enforcement) to 10. Communities with effective building codes can benefit from reduced insurance premiums for their citizens and business owners, which provides a powerful incentive to adopt and enforce the standards.
Download FEMA's landmark study, Building Codes Save: A Nationwide Study of Loss Prevention.
To learn more about ISO's Building Code Effectiveness Grading Schedule (BCEGS®), please visit ISO Mitigation.
 Building Codes Save: A Nationwide Study of Loss Prevention, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), November 2020, <https://www.fema.gov/emergency-managers/risk-management/building-science/building-codes-save-study>, accessed on March 4, 2021.