FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – October 6, 2003
Governor Announces Details Of Safe Room Program
"I urge everyone in this state to have a safe room constructed in their home," said Governor Henry. "This program will help eliminate or reduce the financial burden of building a safe room so Oklahomans can better protect themselves in the face of severe weather."
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Anthony S. Lowe
Mitigation Division Director
Emergency Preparedness and Response Directorate
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
U.S. House of Representatives
Committee on Science
Subcommittee on Research and
Subcommittee on Environment, Technology and Standards
Chairman Smith, Ranking Member Johnson, of the Subcommittee on Research and Chairman Ehlers, Ranking Member Udall, of the Subcommittee on Environment, Technology and Standards, and Members of both Subcommittees, I am Anthony S. Lowe, Director of the Mitigation Division of FEMA of the Department of Homeland Security. On behalf of the Department of Homeland Security, we welcome and appreciate the invitation to appear today before the Subcommittees on Research and on Environment, Technology and Standards.
Today, I would like to discuss with you FEMA's efforts in the area of wind hazard mitigation.
As you know, FEMA currently administers a number of programs intended to reduce the effects of hazards. These include the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program, the National Dam Safety Program, National Flood Insurance Program, and the National Hurricane Program. To date, we have leveraged each of these programs to carry out all-hazards mitigation.
While some funds for wind hazard mitigation have come from the National Hurricane Program, most of the funds from this program are directed towards conducting and updating hurricane evacuation studies. These studies are essential to state and local emergency management to effectively respond to a hurricane landfall. A small portion of the National Hurricane Program funds has been used to support wind hazard mitigation initiatives, such as FEMA's much-used Coastal Construction Manual. "FEMA 55", as it's referred to, is considered a reference for coastal construction and this critical guidance is offered for the benefit of architects, engineers, and building code officials.
Over the last 30 years, FEMA has conducted post-disaster field investigations through its disaster assistance programs to determine how buildings and other structures performed and issued guidance on how to build more disaster-resistant construction. We also assist communities following major disasters to support their efforts to build back properly so we can break the cycle of damage and repair.
With the advent of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in the early 1990s, FEMA saw the value that this technology could bring to emergency planning and mitigation and undertook the development of a risk assessment tool, initially for earthquakes, called HAZUS, or Hazards-U.S. Last month, we completed and released the first multihazard version of our HAZUS tool called HAZUS-MH, or HAZUS Multihazard for hurricanes, earthquakes, and floods. The hurricane module of that tool is the first hurricane wind risk assessment tool available to state and local emergency managers and community planners. As we were completing the testing of this latest release of HAZUS, Hurricane Isabel was approaching the Atlantic coast and we used HAZUS to provide damages and economic loss projections to key decisions makers within DHS. Final HAZUS loss estimates as the hurricane made landfall correlated well with the loss estimates provided by the property casualty insurance industry.
One of FEMA's greatest successes has been in the area of wind hazard shelters for tornadoes and hurricanes. FEMA has developed a number of technical guidance documents and helped establish national standards for both in-home and community shelters. These standards are in use throughout the U.S. and are currently being incorporated into the nation's model building codes. In addition, FEMA's post-disaster Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) has been used by a number of states to fund wind hazard shelters. Some states have elected to fund in-home shelters while other states have chosen to fund community shelters at schools and other publicly owned facilities. Oklahoma, Kansas, Iowa, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Alabama have all funded shelters, through various programs, over the last four years. As a result of these initiatives, high quality and affordable wind hazard shelters have and continue to be constructed throughout areas of the U.S. threatened by both tornadoes and hurricanes.
Following the 1999 tornadoes that tore through Oklahoma and Kansas, Oklahoma used its HMGP funds to establish a homeowner reimbursement program for in-home saferooms. Since homes damaged by the tornadoes were given priority by the State, many of the saferooms were built in the Oklahoma City area. In May 2003, the Oklahoma City area was again struck by a major tornado and several saferooms that were built under the HMGP program provided safe shelter to many families. Following these storms, Albert Ashwood, the Director for Emergency Management for the State of Oklahoma publicly stated that the saferooms, built with FEMA's HMGP program funds, had saved many lives that day. Under Secretary Brown and I toured several of these damaged homes ourselves and saw both the tremendous damage and excellent performance of these saferooms. This is the kind of work that FEMA is most proud of: saving lives and property, and getting people to take action before disaster strikes.
In all of these initiatives mentioned, FEMA has also focused on developing training to support technology transfer. FEMA, through its Emergency Management Institute, offers training in coastal construction for design professionals. Through our Multihazard Building Design Summer Institute, FEMA offers state-of-the-art training in wind resistant construction to university architectural and engineering faculty. This training is delivered by some of the nation's leading wind engineers from Texas Tech University.
FEMA has and will continue to carry out wind hazard mitigation activities in close consultation with our mitigation partners both inside and outside of government. Outside of government we maintain a strong working relationship with professional organizations such as the American Society of Civil Engineers, American Association of Wind Engineers; code development organizations, including the International Code Council, and the National Fire Protection Association; our private sector partners that include the National Association of Home Builders, Manufactured Housing Institute, and the Portland Cement Association; and last but not least, our friends in the university wind engineering research community including, of course, Texas Tech University. It is worth noting that Texas Tech played a key role in the development of saferoom technology and continues to play a central role in our wind hazard mitigation initiatives.
Lessons Learned from Other Hazards Programs
It is fair to say that FEMA has had considerable experience in administering hazard reduction programs. However, there currently is no Federal wind hazard reduction program. And other than FEMA's National Hurricane Program, which focuses primarily on evacuation planning, there is little coordinated effort among federal agencies to address mitigating the effects of high winds on buildings, other structures, and critical infrastructure. From this perspective I offer some thoughts on elements that a Federal wind hazards reduction program should include.
It is vital that post-storm data be collected in an efficient and orderly manner and made readily available so researchers and others can learn from both poor and successful building performance. There is no better laboratory to learn from than the data-rich post disaster field environment.
It is essential to identify "cost effective and affordable" wind hazard mitigation approaches. There would be little value in coming up with great approaches only to find that no one will implement them because they are too difficult or too expensive. Solutions have to work in the "real world" to be effective.
A lead agency should be designated for any interagency working group formed to establish a wind hazard mitigation plan.
In closing, we appreciate the opportunity to represent the Department of Homeland Security before the Subcommittees on this important and timely issue. We would be pleased to answer any questions you may have.