NU Online News Service, Sept. 14, 3:46 p.m.EDT

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Government minimum flood elevation requirements for Gulf Coastregion properties vulnerable to storm surge are "woefullyinadequate," according to a not-for-profit insurance industry studygroup.

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The Tampa, Fla.-based Institute for Business & Home Safety(IBHS) based its findings on a study of property damage caused byHurricane Ike, which struck the Bolivar Peninsula near Galveston,Texas, on Sept. 13, 2008.

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IBHS' 60-page report found that significantly more Gulf Coasthomes and businesses are imperiled by flooding from storm surgethan previously recognized by property owners or policymakers.

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"Lessons learned from Hurricane Ike, which is thethird-costliest hurricane on record, should be used by vulnerablecommunities from Texas to Maine to effectively reduce propertydamage in all hurricane-exposed areas," said IBHS President andChief Executive Officer Julie Rochman.

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She noted that the study found "many properties are not builthigh enough to withstand storm surges, tightly enough to preventwater from causing interior damage, or strongly enough to preventdamage when high winds strike."

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The IBHS report urges the National Flood Insurance Program(NFIP) to provide greater incentives for building well above theminimum elevations now in place, noting that more than 50 percentof the nation's population lives within 50 miles of the coast, withmore than $9 trillion of insured coastal property vulnerable tohurricanes.

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The NFIP, which is the federal government program that providesflood insurance to homes and businesses, also establishes baseflood elevation (BFE) levels for properties.

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According to the study's findings, the elevation requirement forhomes on Texas' Bolivar Peninsula ranged between 13 feet for homesbuilt in the 1970s and 17-to-19 feet for homes built beginning in1983.

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All but a handful of properties within the first few rows ofhouses from the coast, built to even the highest elevationrequirements, were washed away during Hurricane Ike, the IBHSsaid.

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However, 10 homes on the Bolivar Peninsula designed and builtunder IBHS' building code-plus new construction trademarkedprogram, "Fortified...for safer living," survived the stormsustaining minor damage.

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IBHS explained that the fortified homes had outdoor decks at 18feet that were destroyed, but the homes, which were elevated to 26feet, survived.

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According to IBHS Senior Vice President of Research and ChiefEngineer Tim Reinhold, most homes in coastal areas are built to orslightly above 100-year base flood elevations.

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"A 100-year flood means that the level of flood water has a 1percent chance of being equaled or exceeded in any single year.However, it is well recognized in the engineering community thatcoastal homes built to this level have a 26 percent chance of beingflooded or demolished over the life of a 30-year mortgage. Thischance increases to about 40 percent in a 50-year period," Mr.Reinhold said.

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"All it takes is a breaking wave about 2 feet above the base ofa house to knock out the bottom floor or destroy a frame house," heexplained.

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"The chances of destruction can be significantly reduced byemploying what has been learned about the importance of properelevation, which can be relatively inexpensive when building acoastal home," he continued. "For example, building to a 500-yearbase flood elevation reduces the chance of storm surge exceedingthe base elevation to about 10 percent in a 50-year period."

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Other items in the report include:

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o A performance evaluation of superior construction techniqueswhen tested by a truly extreme weather event.

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o An outline of a course for rigorous laboratory testing toexplore and resolve remaining issues with specific buildingmaterials and systems.

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o Descriptions of the leading edge of construction and realestate markets, i.e., developers choosing to design buildings tothe highest standard, because they understand the favorablecost/benefit ratio and want to meet consumer demand for safety anddurability.

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"Beyond the actual findings, our report includes a verypractical, easy-to-follow retrofit guide for Texans in coastalareas to use. The guide takes into account the current Texasbuilding code requirements and outlines specific retrofit optionsthat homeowners and residents can use to harden their property bydoing things such as strengthening their roofs," Ms. Rochmansaid.

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The study, "Hurricane Ike: Nature's Force vs. StructuralStrength," is online athttp://www.disastersafety.org/resource/resmgr/pdfs/hurricane_ike.pdf.

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