Disaster Mitigation: Reducing Costs and Saving Lives
2167 Rayburn House Office Building
Hearing of the Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management
Chairman Lou Barletta (R-PA)
Today’s hearing will focus on disaster mitigation and what communities across the Nation can do to protect their homes and families and reduce their costs, particularly as it relates to floods.
So, why are we having this hearing today and why focus on floods? Flooding is the number one natural disaster in the United States, costing the taxpayer, states, local communities, and individual homeowners and businesses billions of dollars every year. For example, in 2012 alone, the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) paid more than $7.7 billion in flood insurance claims. In 2012 and 2013 the Disaster Relief Fund spent nearly $800 million just on flood-only disasters, and spent more than $7 billion on disasters that involved heavy flooding from hurricanes and tropical storms.
And the federal costs are only a portion of the total costs, including the costs to communities, individual homeowners and businesses.
Floods cost lives, property and communities. To give some perspective, in the past five years, all 50 states have experienced floods or flash floods. In 2013, out of the 62 major disaster declarations across the Nation, more than 41 of them involved flooding.
In Pennsylvania, floods are the most prevalent type of natural disaster. In 2011, Tropical Storm Lee hit Pennsylvania just a week and a half after Hurricane Irene, causing flooding that resulted in loss of life, homes destroyed, and an estimated $1 billion in damages in Pennsylvania alone.
While the Committee does not have jurisdiction over the insurance policies and premiums, there are real and practical steps communities and individuals can take to protect their homes and their families from floods, and at the same time reduce their costs and insurance premiums. And, that is what we are focusing on today.
Disaster mitigation has been proven to reduce the risks in disasters, including floods. At the federal level, there are programs that can help states and communities mitigate against disasters. For example, the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, the Pre-Disaster Mitigation program, as well as the Hazard Mitigation Assistance Program help offset the costs of mitigation activities across the Nation.
That is why I am concerned the Administration’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2015 removes the Pre-Disaster Mitigation Program funding out of FEMA’s base budget. Recently, I along with Ranking Member Carson and other Members of Congress wrote a letter to the appropriators making clear continued funding for this program is critical.
Why do we invest in these programs, and why are they so important? Studies have shown that for every dollar we invest in mitigation, the taxpayer saves three to four dollars in disaster assistance.
But, in addition to these programs, communities can take practical steps to reduce their flood risk through programs like the Community Rating System or “CRS.” CRS specifically is designed to engage communities in mitigating against flooding. Communities that participate in the CRS program can see their insurance premiums reduced anywhere from five to 45 percent, and at the same time actually reduce their risk from flooding, protecting their families and property from devastation.
CRS works on a rating system based on the mitigation activities completed by participating communities. As communities take steps to improve their ratings, their costs decrease, including their insurance premiums. For example, in the program, communities are rated 9 to 1, 1 being the highest. With a rating of 9, a community can see a five percent reduction in their insurance rates under the NFIP. A rating of 1 can result in a reduction of 45%. These are real and tangible savings to individual property owners.
Today I hope to hear how these programs are being used and can be used by communities in Pennsylvania and across the Nation to help alleviate some of the burden and costs of disasters and insurance premiums.
Mitigation is critical – it is critical to saving lives, critical to reducing overall costs of disasters, and critical to homeowners and businesses.
After Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee, I remember standing in front of one family’s home, which had river water flowing more than a foot deep on its second floor. Most of this family’s possessions were piled onto the sidewalk. Some were still dripping wet. The mother looked at her children’s toys, ruined by the flood. She pointed to one little toy and said, “How can the government put a price on that? My son played with that. Those are memories. How can you put a price on that?”
She’s right. We cannot put a price tag on memories, but we can mitigate against floods so that when the next big storm, or the next big flood comes, these communities are as prepared as possible, so that their homes are built better and families do not have to watch irreplaceable photographs and heirlooms get washed away.
I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today, and I thank you all for being here.
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