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Disaster Prep Saves Six Times as Much as It Costs

East Village, Manhattan

Disaster Preparedness

The East River preparing to breach the FDR Drive during Hurricane Sandy.

Jan. 24, 2018

Many New Yorkers, shaken by memories of Hurricane Sandy, have been taking steps of their own to get ready for the next big one. A walk-up tenement in the East Village has installed a new boiler on the roof. A nearby Mitchell-Lama co-op has purchased snap-together barriers to prevent floodwaters from entering the building. Another building in the neighborhood is housing its infrastructure in a waterproof, above-ground structure.

Now comes news that these resiliency efforts pay off – big. On the heels of reports that 2017 was the worst year for natural disasters in American history – hurricanes, floods, wildfires and other events wreaked $306 billion in property damage – the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS) has found that every dollar spent on disaster preparedness saves society six dollars. That’s a 50 percent increase since 2005, The Atlantic’s City Lab reports

“A lot of things have happened since 2005,” says NIBS’s Ryan Colker, who contributed to the report. “Katrina, Sandy, and the increasing ... frequency of disasters prompted us to look at what has changed.” 

NIBS, a nonprofit group authorized by the U.S. Congress, took into account grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the federal department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and the Economic Development Administration (EDA), whose staffs collaborated with NIBS to produce the report. They found that the $27 billion spent in mitigation grants over the past 23 years has yielded $158 billion in societal savings – a six-fold payback

“As we continue to produce information about the benefits of resilience,” Colker says, “I think you can see an increased recognition from builders that people are willing to pay for this. There’s value associated with it.” 

Ironically – or maybe not so ironically, given events of the past year in Washington – the federal grants that this study reveals to be more effective than previously thought are on the chopping block in the Trump administration’s first budget request. Specifically, FEMA’s pre-disaster mitigation grants would be cut in half, HUD’s Community Block Grant Program would be ended, and the EDA would be eliminated. Of course, in Trumplandia, climate change is fake news.

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