Natural disasters are a growing concern as they increase in both frequency and severity. These catastrophes can cause significant property damage and claim numerous lives. In fact, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimates that since 1980 the U.S. has experienced 310 severe weather and climate events with losses over $1 billion. In total, these events have resulted in more than $2.155 trillion in damages and 15,180 fatalities.
Building codes (state and local standards) promote the safe construction and stabilization of properties, thus helping protect buildings amid natural disasters and minimizing associated losses. Understanding building codes and initiating resilient construction practices help commercial property owners to accurately assess structural risks and limit damages. By 2040, building codes are projected to prevent nearly $132 billion in property-related losses.
Natural Disaster Trends
Disasters can vary greatly based on your operation’s location. The Gulf Coast is more likely to experience hurricanes, while the West Coast suffers from wildfires. Regardless, every state is impacted by some weather and climate event.
Wildfires & Droughts
Recently, the West Coast experienced many record-setting drought and wildfire seasons that produced thousands of fires and burned millions of acres. Many studies link the drought and wildfire surge to climate change (e.g., temperatures increases, soil moisture decreases, drying of organic matter in forests). Climate experts anticipate drought and wildfire seasons to become longer and more severe.
Hurricanes, Tropical Storms & Flooding
Hurricanes, tropical storms and extreme flooding have become increasingly common on the East Coast. Recent Atlantic hurricane seasons have recorded historically high storm occurrences that also surge in severity. Many recent Category 4 and 5 hurricanes (e.g., Florence, Irma, Michael, Harvey, Ida) have influenced catastrophic flood and wind damage. NOAA anticipates that rises in sea levels and ocean temperatures will intensify hurricane wind speeds and precipitation. Storms that make landfall will result in greater damages.
Tornadoes & Winter Storms
Annually, hundreds of tornadoes terrorize the Great Plain states, also called Tornado Alley. Recent research shows tornadoes are increasing in frequency and severity outside of Tornado Alley. Since 2000, states such as Alabama and Kentucky report tornadoes have more than doubled the annual number. Tornado season (March-May) has become less predictable as these natural disasters are occurring both earlier and later than normal. Additionally losses created by secondary perils (e.g., hail, snow) have surged over the last 50 years.
How Building Codes Can Help
Given the rising prevalence and threats natural disasters pose to buildings, commercial property owners should consider the following to safeguard their structures.
- Building codes are created to protect structures from common hazards. For example, wildfire-prone areas require fire-resistant roof materials, while hurricane-prone locations necessitate beams and joists stay structurally sound amid strong winds.
- Building codes differentiate between moderate damages and complete devastation. Most building codes derive from the International Code Council’s International Codes (I-Codes).
- A Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) study found Florida and California property owners who adopt and enforce modern, hazard-resistant building codes can expect future annual savings of $1 billion.
- FEMA found that modern building codes can prevent annual flooding ($484 million), earthquakes ($60 million) and hurricane-related wind ($1.1 billion) damages for structures built after 2000. Every building code construction dollar spent saves $11 in disaster repair and recovery expenses.
- Building codes can provide coverage advantages. Underwriting experts suggest that commercial property owners in communities with strictly enforced building codes can receive insurance discounts. Proper protections will also influence lower claim costs.
If your municipalities have poor building code adoption and enforcement, take steps to protect your structures from natural disasters, voluntarily adopt I-Codes and follow disaster-specific IBHS structural safety measures. Also partner with trusted contractors to ensure your property receives suitable construction practices.
We’re Here to Help
Natural disasters have become a growing concern and often result in widespread property damage. Commercial property owners can better protect their structures and minimize potential losses amid weather and climate events by upholding applicable building codes. If you have questions about commercial property insurance or would like additional risk mitigation strategies for your properties, connect with a member of our team.
This article is not intended to be exhaustive nor should any discussion or opinions be construed as legal advice. Readers should contact legal counsel or an insurance professional for appropriate advice.