Five years ago, Hurricane Katrina caused an estimated 1,300tragic deaths as well as $41.1 billion in insured losses across sixstates. Louisiana and Mississippi suffered the brunt of Katrina'swrath, followed by Alabama.

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No one wants a repeat performance of the devastation caused byKatrina. To that end, the Institute for Business & Home Safetycalls upon Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi to adopt andrigorously enforce statewide building codes to protect theircitizens.

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Building codes and standards regulate the design, constructionand maintenance of buildings. They help protect the health, safetyand general welfare of a building's users, and establish theminimum acceptable standards necessary for protecting people andproperty. When natural disaster strikes, everyone benefits from theenforcement of sound building codes.

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Louisiana–which experienced $25.3 billion in insured Katrinalosses–has made the most progress by adopting a statewide code.However, the state has struggled financially to establish staff andmanage inspection departments. Neither Mississippi nor Alabama havestatewide building codes.

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In Mississippi, ($13.6 billion in Katrina-related propertydamages) only seven of its 82 counties are required to enforce thewind and flood requirements of the 2003 International Building Code(IBC) and 2003 International Residential Code (IRC).

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Alabama ($1.1 billion in Katrina-related property damage) hasfailed to adopt strong building codes, despite widespread damagefrom Katrina.

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Brick and mortar can be replaced, along with furniture and manyother material possessions, but it is impossible to put a price onirreplaceable family heirlooms and the safety and security attachedto a home. This is where the cost-benefit of the adoption andenforcement of modern building codes really becomes clear.

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In Florida, which has some of the nation's strongest buildingcodes, the performance of homes constructed to newer standardsexperienced a real-world test when four major hurricanes attackedthe state from both coastlines in a six-week period between Aug. 13and Sept. 28, 2004.

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The first of these storms, Hurricane Charley, made landfall inCharlotte County, Fla. Afterward, IBHS building science engineerssurveyed the damage to homes.

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The IBHS field research and subsequent analysis found that homesbuilt to modern, well-enforced codes were 60 percent less likely toincur hurricane-related damage than homes constructed before thecodes were adopted. The study also revealed that if damage didoccur, it was likely to be 42 percent less severe. Damagereductions like these mean a faster, less expensive recoveryprocess for individuals and communities.

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If keeping communities intact is not enough to spur codeadoption, maybe financial incentives will be. Federal legislationis now under consideration to amend the Stafford Act, whichprovides the statutory authority for most federal disaster responseactivities.

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The amendments include financial incentives for states to adoptand enforce modern building codes by rewarding them with increasedfederal funding for post-disaster recovery, provided the codesadhere to the model wind and seismic provisions.

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Opponents of building code adoption argue that modernconstruction practices will make homes too expensive. This simplyis not true.

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South Carolina grappled with building code issues followingHurricane Hugo (1989) which caused $4.2 billion in property damage.During the past two decades, South Carolina has made great stridestoward strengthening its building stock against future damage byadopting and operating under the guidelines of the 2006 IBC andIRC. The catalyst has been two-fold: concern for the safety of itscitizens and the recognition of what's at stake.

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The state has experienced tremendous growth since Hugo hit,particularly in coastal counties. By 2030, the South Carolinapopulation is predicted to grow to more than 5.4 millionpeople–many of whom will be living in harm's way.

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South Carolina has approximately $200 billion in insuredproperty along its coast. State officials realize it is not amatter of if, but when, the state will be struck by another majorstorm, and took proactive steps and is much better prepared forstorms.

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The progress made in South Carolina and the continuing effortsin Louisiana demonstrate that it is possible to adopt strongbuilding codes without radically increasing the cost ofconstruction.

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By acting now to adopt statewide building codes, Alabama andMississippi can position themselves to better protect theirvulnerable populations and position their state to recover morequickly and less expensively when the next hurricane hits.

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Wanda Edwards is Director of Code Development at the Institutefor Business & Home Safety. She may be reached at [email protected].

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