Tucked into a long-awaited congressional reauthorization for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) last week was an important set of reforms aimed at promoting hazard mitigation and resiliency.
The legislation marks one of the most sweeping changes to federal hazard programs in years. The final Senate vote was 93–6.
The new law authorizes 6 percent of spending under the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Disaster Relief Fund to go to a “National Public Infrastructure Predisaster Mitigation Fund.” These funds would be awarded to communities on a competitive basis for mitigation planning and projects.
The percentage may seem modest, but if that provision had been in place last year, an estimated $600 million would be available for new pre-disaster mitigation grants.
That investment would not only help make communities stronger and more resilient but also hold down future disaster recovery costs. Research from the National Institute of Building Sciences concluded that every $1 spent on pre-disaster mitigation saves $6 in recovery costs.
The measure also expands support for resiliency by allowing funds to be used for the development and enforcement of improved building codes. It also added long-sought language allowing facilities rebuilt with federal dollars after disasters to be built to higher hazard and resiliency standards. Local governments would also use facility repair funds to pay for building code enforcement for as many as 180 days following a disaster declaration.
Public buildings or facilities receiving rebuilding assistance would have to be built in conformity with the latest codes and standards instead of any codes in place at the time of the disaster. If a local government determined it would not be in the public interest to replace a damaged facility, it could use its entire federal replacement funding for repair of another facility, construction of a different facility, or hazard mitigation.
This change — currently only a portion can be used in that manner — provides greater flexibility for communities aiming to rebuild smarter following disaster.
Other provisions authorize $900 million per year through 2022 for FEMA Emergency Management Performance Grants, which are often used for hazard preparation, and another $4 million for Emergency Management Assistance Compact grants to support interagency and intergovernmental coordination. Other FEMA-related provisions address how disaster assistance is administered and the process for temporary and permanent housing assistance.
The bill also allocated initial emergency spending for areas hit by Hurricane Florence. $1.68 billion was approved.
The hazard reforms attracted support from across the political spectrum. Small wonder with the tab for damage in 2017 already topping $300 billion.
Despite the progress on mitigation reform, Congress still faces the challenge of reauthorizing the National Flood Insurance Program, which is set to lapse again on November 30. APA supported the inclusion of the hazard mitigation reforms as part of a legislative priority focus on resiliency and has long-supported expanded and improved pre-disaster mitigation.
Top image: A swath of destruction from Hurricane Michael near Panama City, Florida, on October 11, 2018. U.S. government photo shared on Flickr by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
About the Author
Jason Jordan is APA's director of policy.