Federal Legislation Focuses on Strengthening Buildings to Withstand Natural Disasters Before They Occur


Elsewhere on Capitol Hill, efforts are underway to intensify and bring order to the federal focus on mitigation. The PREPARE Act, which has bipartisan support from Reps. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.) and Daniel Webster (R-Fla.), authorizes the creation of an interagency council to provide recommendations to all relevant federal agencies about the best means of planning and preparing for extreme weather incidents. Additionally, this new interagency council would serve as a clearinghouse to provide state and local stakeholders with the best information available and best practices to help them formulate emergency preparation plans tailored to their local needs.

The legislation proposes to draw members from the departments of Defense, Transportation, Energy, Homeland Security, Justice, Housing and Urban Development, and 10 other agencies. It also will include “senior federal officials” with relevant policy expertise and policy responsibilities. This wide-ranging list gives an indication of the need for improved coordination of mitigation activities, as well as the currently dispersed responsibilities for disaster relief that are spread throughout the federal government. The sponsors of the bill emphasize that this is a “zero-cost” effort. In other words, their proposal draws on existing resources in the federal government and reorganizes them to facilitate better communications among agencies involved in mitigation activities.

As with the DRRA legislation, this approach does not attempt to make any judgment about the cause of the increasing intensity of cataclysmic weather events but is a response to their indisputable frequency and the escalating cost to federal, state and local governments. The sponsors of the bill point out “ … extreme weather events are complex, crosscutting problems that pose risks to many economic and environmental systems—including agriculture, infrastructure, ecosystems, and human health—and present a significant financial risk to the federal government.”

The focus is on preparing for the results of this indisputable destructive weather, rather than debating its cause.

The PREPARE Act has been endorsed by more than 100 organizations, including the American Institute of Architects, the EPDM Roofing Association (ERA), the International Code Council, The Pew Charitable Trusts and U.S. Green Building Council.

ERA, which represents the manufacturers of EPDM single-ply roofing products and their leading suppliers, endorsed the bill late last year calling it “an essential initiative to ensure prioritization of federal initiatives in dealing with our changing climate.” Jared Blum, then ERA’s executive director, said: “Our members stand ready to participate in the construction of resilient buildings that can withstand frequent cataclysmic natural events and quickly recover from their impact. The specific attributes of EPDM make it uniquely valuable in attaining resilience in a structure, and the availability of EPDM in both white and black provides energy efficiency in every climate.”

Responding to ERA’s endorsement, Rep. Cartwright noted the importance of roofing to a resilient structure. “As extreme weather events hit harder and more frequently with each passing year, providing relief funding after the fact is no longer enough,” Cartwright said. “It’s time to take proactive steps to ensure our communities are more resilient before disaster strikes. This bill promotes the adoption of disasterpreparedness strategies, and advanced roofing technologies should be a key part of the overall effort to bolster American businesses in the face of ever-intensifying extreme weather events.”

The message from FEMA and Capitol Hill is loud and clear: We do not have the resources to quickly repair the damage inflicted by the increasing number of cataclysmic weather events. But we will help you upgrade your structures to withstand these disasters. For the construction industry, this is good news and will result in accessible funding, manageable timetables and higher-quality finished products. Resilient structures and resilient businesses will protect Americans—and the American economy— from an unpredictable weather future.

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