July 15, 2022
FEMA Introduces New National Building Code Strategy
On April 13, 2022, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) released a new building codes strategy, defining the goals and objectives it will pursue to promote the application, adoption and enforcement of hazard-resistant building codes across the United States.
The strategy focuses on three core goals:
- Integrating building codes and standards across FEMA,
- Strengthening nationwide capacity for superior building performance, and
- Driving public action on building codes.
Hurricane Season Heightens Awareness of the Issues
With hurricane season now upon us, the urgency intensifies to find better ways to reduce damage and save lives, as coastal communities brace themselves for more powerful storms. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has predicted 14 to 21 named storms in the Atlantic this season, with six to 10 becoming hurricanes and three to six “turbo-charging into major hurricanes with winds greater than 110 mph (177 kph).”
Underserved Communities Disproportionately Impacted
FEMA’s strategy also aims to support underserved communities that have a greater probability of living in structurally unsafe housing. Low-income communities, which are less likely to have been constructed according to modern building codes, have been shown to be disproportionately impacted by natural hazards. FEMA plans to expand support to these communities to foster safe and resilient communities nationwide.
Laying a Cornerstone for Loss Reduction
FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell announced the strategy at this year’s National Hurricane Conference in April, where she described the strategy of upgrading hazard-resistant codes as “a cornerstone of loss reduction,” that will “save property, but more importantly, save lives.”
As part of its strategy, FEMA highlights several building codes, specifications, and standards – including nine International Codes and two International Code Council standards.
”The strategy works towards internal alignment of priorities and practices across all of FEMA’s programs related to building codes and acts as a guide, both inside and outside of the agency, to promote consistency and the value of building codes towards disaster mitigation,” said FEMA in its news release.
Majority of U.S. Communities Have Outdated Building Codes
Nearly two out of every three communities in the United States have outdated building codes, according to the National Initiative to Advance Building Codes. This makes communities vulnerable to climate impacts and higher energy costs, officials said. The FEMA initiative is designed help state, local, Tribal, and territorial governments adopt current building codes and standards, enabling communities to be more resilient to hurricanes, flooding, wildfires, and other extreme weather events that are intensifying due to climate change.
Billions in Disaster Recovery Savings
“The adoption of hazard resistant building codes saves communities $11 per every $1 invested,” Criswell said, citing a finding by the National Institute of Building Sciences. The codes will work to ensure that buildings can better withstand damage from all natural disasters, such as wildfires, tornadoes and floods.
Modern codes also reduce heating and cooling costs by requiring better insulation. According to a FEMA analysis, the typical household savings in energy costs from implementing the new codes could be about $162 per year.
As an example of how simple changes to building codes can have a dramatic effect at little cost, consider a recent change made to the Florida building codes. Researchers have found that using ring-shank roofing nails made shingles much more resistant to hurricane winds. Ring-shank nails are now standard in Florida.
FEMA says that communities that have implemented modern building codes are saving an estimated $1.6 billion per year by avoiding damage from major disasters. That’s approximately $132 billion for the next 20 years that won’t need to be spent on disaster recovery.