Disaster Zone

Building Codes Don't Make a Difference

This is when 'available' data doesn't always mesh with reality.

by Eric Holdeman / January 24, 2019

I had the opportunity to meet Jasper Cooke this past week. He has been getting a master's degree from the Naval Post Graduate School. His academic adviser is Glen Woodbury, a former employee and then peer of mine here in Washington state. Glen, who many of you will know, moved on from being the Washington state emergency management director to now head up the homeland security programs at NPS. He is an academic!

Note that the "current data" doesn't support a big difference with building codes, but the reality of knowing they do is sometimes not supported by data. 

Glen sent me this abstract from Jasper's thesis:

"From the thesis abstract; “What drives resilience for states in the United States? This thesis seeks to answer this question and addresses the absence of quantitative metrics for efforts to increase resilience. We used a literature review to create a framework of indicators, a Delphi review to validate the framework, and statistical techniques to create a composite indicator from the framework. Knowing that all models are false but some are useful, the intent was not to perfectly predict resilience, but simply to create a tool to help practitioners understand which programs most affect resilience. Our results showed that even programs assumed to have a strong link with resilience — such as strong building codes — actually had little relation with increased resilience, as measured by weather-related fatalities and economic losses. Some conclusions are that state-level measurement masks granular differences that are important in understanding weather-related deaths. In most states, for instance, weather-related deaths happen infrequently, yet most federal and state programs aim to increase resilience in catastrophic events, which makes it challenging to validate resilience measurement tools using data on day-to-day deaths. Recommendations include that FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] should continue to build on improvements to the Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment and that agencies should determine and consistently measure the dependent variable (i.e., deaths and damage or other measures of well-being).” Cooke, Jasper V.

Jasper is very much into the data, and we need more data to prove our point that investing in all aspects of emergency management, especially mitigation (like building codes) does pay dividends. The future belongs to the millennial generation of emergency managers who are taking over the leadership of most emergency management programs. Their lack of fear of technology and new skills and experiences will help build our emergency management profession into what will become a respected member of our larger regional and state communities. 

One of my next blog posts will be about the disaster losses of 2018. Those numbers are only going to get larger and larger in the coming years. The only hope we have is disaster mitigation/climate adaptation, in my mind.