Sound, up to date and successful building codes are essential for construction, but codes must also be enforced and continuously updated to effectively contribute to disaster mitigation, according to Leonard C. Brevik, executive vice president and CEO of the National Association of Professional Insurance Agents.
Brevik made the remarks during a panel, “Reassessing State Building Codes: Mitigation and Enforcement” conducted Feb. 25 during the spring meeting of the National Conference of Insurance Legislators in Weston, Fla.
“Having strong building codes is not enough,” Brevik said. “Having strong building codes and enforcing them will go a long way towards disaster mitigation, but as we saw recently in New Orleans, even that is not enough.
“The extraordinary events that lead to the vast destruction in New Orleans demonstrated that the first step in mitigation is the obligation of government,” Brevik said. “Only municipal, state and federal governments have the authority to handle this coordinated effort,” Brevik said. “Included in this mix are policies that address public infrastructure maintenance and improvement, disaster preparedness, emergency response, rebuilding and land-use planning to discourage building in high-risk areas. These are responsibilities that cannot be shifted to the private sector.
“Most communities adopt and, most importantly, enforce strong building codes, but when they don’t, we all lose,” Brevik said. “The increased burden from weak building codes or lax enforcement falls on taxpayers, through direct losses, higher premiums, higher taxes and lost economic opportunities. The good news is, construction standards work. Structures built to higher standards are 77 percent less likely to be damaged, according to FEMA. This translates into fewer and less severe losses.”
Brevik also noted that there is a natural tension between the costs of committing to improved government mitigation and the increased burden on taxpayers, developers and consumers. Too much regulation and the costs associated with it may negatively affect the attractiveness of municipalities to new residents and business.
“Disaster prevention pays in so many ways,” Brevik explained. “Primarily, it saves lives. It also saves suffering, loss of property and jobs.”
Professional insurance agents have an important part to play in furthering the goals of stronger mitigation efforts, Brevik said. “Agents are familiar with the local market and can therefore be in position to help assess the risks and provide consumers with the most appropriate products to help insure against those risks, in a cost effective manner. The independent agent can also help educate the community on the importance of mitigation efforts. Finally, the independent agent can be a strong advocate to local, state, and federal policymakers to help join the disaster mitigation effort.
“It is also important for us to realize that everything cannot be completely mitigated,” Brevik said. “We can and must do our best, but the nature of Nature is that the unanticipated will sometimes happen, despite our best efforts. We need look no further than the hurricanes of 2004 and 2005 to see that we must prepare not just for the predictable, but for the unthinkable as well.”
Other participants in the NCOIL panel were Jeffrey Burton, building codes manager, Institute for Business & Home Safety; Mark Smith, assistant vice president, Government Relations, Insurance Services Office; and Keith Lessner, vice president of loss control, Property Casualty Insurers Association of America; the moderator was Rep. Donald Brown (R-Fla.), chairman of the Florida House Insurance Committee.