Science and Good Sense Support Sound Policy

One of the most essential roles we play in our work is to maintain a strong and continuous link between the technical aspects of disaster resilience and the end users who make it matter.  Users can be policymakers, building professionals or families, and we reach them any way we can whether it is through advocacy, education or awareness.

So whenever I have the opportunity to spend time with the bright minds in the technical community, I embrace it to bring this point back to the scientists — we must work together to deliver community resilience.  Along these lines, I gave a talk last week at the Multihazard Mitigation Council Symposium: Life-Cycle Performance: Moving Forward to More Resilient Communities as part of the National Institute of Building Sciences Conference, “Building Innovation 2014.”

This is a setting that included some of the leading voices in our movement, and it was time well spent in discussing ways to align improved flood policy, earthquake modeling and benefit/cost economics behind the cause of disaster safety and resilience.  It was a pleasure to join the lineup that included Florida Emergency Management Director, Bryan Koon; Mecklenburg County (NC) Director of Storm Water Services, Dave Canaan; University of Colorado Professor, Dr. Keith Porter; University of Southern California Economist, Dr. Adam Rose; and Portland Cement Association’s Director of Codes and Standards, Stephen Szoke, P.E.

My talk focused on our work last year in the heart of the New Madrid Seismic Zone as an example of how to deliver one of the irrefutable elements of resilience — building codes.  The topic, Politics, Economics and Champions/Foes for Memphis Seismic Codes, provided the background and history around the topic of my Commercial Appeal op-ed last year in reference to the decades’ long effort to update seismic provisions in the existing commercial and residential codes.

The update is that Memphis and Shelby County did adopt the newer seismic provisions, and the takeaways from the experience apply in most policy efforts.  Helping leaders understand the case for change is straightforward if we provide a relatable narrative that positions life safety and economic relevance with locally applicable scenarios.

In my experience, powerful economics that include cost-benefit analysis may be the most compelling resilience information as numbers give leaders and decision-makers a defined case for change.  Unfortunately, this data can be the most difficult to pin down.  So I close this post with a thank you to our hosts last week for the 2005 Multihazard Mitigation Council’s study that established an average of $4 return on investment for every $1 spent on mitigation.  The study has been invaluable in our efforts to convey the benefits of mitigation as a component of resilience and has delivered confidence for many leaders as they work to balance many competing yet worthy policy causes.

All of this is proof positive of my premise above — we must maintain a strong and continuous link between the technical aspects of disaster resilience and the end users who make it matter.

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