Tougher building code standards aimed at reducing future hurricane damage in North Carolina have been forwarded to a state committee studying disaster management by Insurance Commissioner Jim Long.
Long petitioned the Joint Study Committee on Energy Preparedness and Disaster Management Recovery Subcommittee on Building Code Issues in Hurricane and Flood Prone Areas to consider his recommendations. The petition indicates that while the North Carolina Building Code is a model in areas such as fire protection and accessibility for the disabled, it remains the only state code along the southern Atlantic coast that has not incorporated stricter building requirements.
“Department officials believe a better code is essential to further protecting property along the coast and safeguarding our strong property insurance market here,” the petition said.
Specifically, the department requested that the study commission incorporate the following improvements to the building code:
1. The addition of the windborne debris provisions are inexpensive when compared to the potential costs of property damage that could occur without implementing them; generally speaking, for every $1 invested in windborne debris protection, property owners will save $5 in repair costs should a major storm hit.
2. Further, stronger building codes could directly impact the amount of federal assistance that North Carolinians would see if a major storm hits and produces extensive damages.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has acknowledged that unless North Carolina adopts the International Building Code’s windborne debris protection, federal assistance in rebuilding homes that are destroyed may be limited, possibly non-existent. Further, it is possible that insurers will deem North Carolina to be an undesirable place to do business, which would leave many home and business owners with few options for insuring their properties.
At a meeting of the Study Committee in Raleigh, N.C., Wanda Edwards, Deputy Commissioner of Engineering and Codes, explained the need for additional provisions within the building code.
“One of the most misunderstood concepts is the importance of windborne debris protection,” Edwards explained. “People think the only problem caused by a window breaking on a beach house is the water damage caused by driving rain; that simply is not the case. After a window breaks, the wind blows into the house, increasing the pressure until the structure literally explodes.”
“In addition,” she continued, “with larger and more complex homes being built, it is necessary for local jurisdictions to be included in residential plan review. This review will provide a level of structural safety that isn’t currently required for homes.
“With the damage that Hurricanes Katrina and Rita caused, hurricane-prone states have been working to improve the way they protect themselves,” Long said. “That’s why we’re urging the study commission to include these adjustments, to better protect our state and our citizens.”
According to prediction models from North Carolina insurance companies, the 2006 hurricane season is expected to cost North Carolina approximately $350,000,000 in residential hurricane-related insurance claims.
“With North Carolina’s history of hurricane damage, we can’t afford to not update and improve our building code,” he said. “Not to mention the fact that FEMA has already threatened to cut back on what the state can receive in disaster relief for major disasters. Incorporating these building code recommendations is a safety issue that will protect us both physically and financially.”