Like other effective property loss mitigation measures, strong building codes can save lives, promote long-term fiscal stability, reduce public sector response and recovery costs, protect the environment, and create a more resilient society. By helping reduce potential property damage, strong codes help maintain the local and state tax base, which is vital to supporting public services, such as police and fire departments.
The Maryland Legislature recently safeguarded the wind requirements in the state’s building standards by approving legislation to prohibit local jurisdictions from weakening the wind design and wind-borne debris provisions of the state’s building code. The bill is now on its way to Gov. Martin O’Malley, who is expected to sign it.
The good work Maryland has done creating better building standards resulted in the state receiving 73 out of a possible 100 points in a national study of coastal building codes conducted by the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) in 2011. The primary deficiency in Maryland identified by the IBHS study, “Rating the States: An Assessment of Residential Building Code and Enforcement Systems for Life Safety and Property Protection in Hurricane-Prone Regions,” was the ability of local jurisdictions to amend the state’s code, which defeats the goal of uniformity and could weaken wind protections even in the most vulnerable coastal areas. Addressing this flaw through this latest piece of legislation reinforces Maryland’s commitment to protecting its citizens against the very real threat of windstorms. In fact, in 2012 two major federal disaster declarations in Maryland were the direct result of coastal and inland property damage caused by severe storms, including straight-line derecho winds and Hurricane Sandy.
With nearly 70 percent of Maryland’s residents living within the state’s coastal zone, according to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, the new legislation helps ensure stronger construction along the coast. However, as the 2012 storms illustrated, high winds do not respect zone boundaries. Properties more than 100 miles from the coast also can experience significant wind damage, according to post-disaster research conducted by IBHS. The holistic approach utilized in the Maryland Building Performance Standards is the most effective way to ensure safer, stronger communities throughout the state.
Post-disaster recovery costs and the loss of tax base can threaten the financial stability and the ability of local governments to provide residents will vital services, such as police and fire protections. A study by the Louisiana State University Hurricane Center estimated that stronger building codes would have reduced wind damage from Hurricane Katrina by 80 percent, saving $8 billion. An IBHS study following Hurricane Charley,which struck Florida in 2004, found that homes built to modern codes with increased wind resistance were 40 percent less likely to be damaged and the repair costs were 60 percent lower.
Allowing local jurisdictions to weaken the wind-resistance portion of the state building code could reduce the protections afforded to home and business owners, destroy the concept of baseline protection for all, and complicate the design and building processes. Wind design and wind-borne debris protections in the most vulnerable areas should not be compromised in order to save money in the short term. By correcting this problem, the legislature avoided potentially cheaper costs upfront, but much more expensive long-term costs for homeowners, communities, the state, and the natural environment.
Julie Rochman is the president and CEO of the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety.