FEMA Reps Speak on the Past, Present and Future of Building Codes

May 23rd, 2022 by Editor

Each year when May comes around, Building Safety Month comes with it, allowing industry professionals, including fenestration, to emphasize the importance of building codes to reduce building vulnerabilities. This year, the International Code Council (ICC) laid out a week-by-week plan for Building Safety Month. The third week focused on disaster preparedness and included a webinar titled “FEMA’s New Building Code Strategy and Hazard Mitigation Programs that Support Community Resilience” on May 17. Karl Fippinger, ICC Fire and Disaster Mitigation, vice president, moderated the session, which featured speakers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

The first speaker, Angela Gladwell, FEMA’s director, Hazard Mitigation Assistance, began the conversation. “The growing frequency and intensity of natural disasters make the need to adopt building codes even more urgent, and we believe that strong standards will reduce the vulnerability of structures to hazards,” she said.

“FEMA released a building code strategy that aligns with the recent White House proclamation focusing on strengthening the nation’s infrastructure and improving climate resiliency,” said Gladwell.

FEMA is aiming for a few strategic results with this initiative, including quadrupling investments in mitigation, doubling flood insurance coverage, and increasing the effectiveness of post-disaster program delivery.

Gladwell said every dollar invested in buildings for the latest codes and standards results in $11 of future avoided losses.

She also discussed the Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) grant program, saying, “[The program] prioritizes significant or innovative infrastructure projects and encourages the adoption and enforcement of disaster-resistant building codes through its prioritization criteria, by funding the development and enforcement of building codes as part of its capability and capacity building activities, and through its non-financial, direct technical assistance.”

Gladwell stressed the importance of building codes, saying, “By adding specific points to the evaluation of our competitive projects, we are putting building codes at the front and center of our program.”

Edward Laatsch, FEMA’s director, Planning, Safety and Building Science Division, touched on a point previously made by Gladwell. He said building codes have $11: $1 return on investment, further estimating a $132 billion reduction in property losses based on forecasted consistent growth associated with the use of modern building codes from 2000-2040.

Jonathan Westcott, a civil engineer in the Building Science Branch, addressed FEMA’s vision, mission and goals and how it strategically aligns with FEMA’s priorities.

“Our vision is the world that we’re seeking to build: a safer nation protected in disasters with superior building performance. The mission of the strategy is to coordinate and prioritize our activities to advance disaster-resistant building codes for FEMA programs and for communities nationwide,” said Westcott.

Westcott outlined the three main goals of the strategy:

  • Goal 1: Integrate building codes and standards across FEMA.
  • Goal 2: Strengthen nationwide capability for superior building performance.
  • Goal 3: Drive public action on building codes.
  • John Ingargiola, lead physical scientist, Building Science Branch, concluded the webinar and spoke on the strategy’s second goal, strengthening capability. “We believe that coordination, training and research all together improve building performance, reduce future damage and most importantly save lives.”

    Tyler Jubar is a staff writer for [DWM] magazine.

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