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Wind Hazards (10-26-04)

Wind hazards, which include hurricanes, tornadoes, and other windstorms, are threats to all 50 states, causing high levels of injuries, deaths, business interruption, and property damage. On September 15, 1999, Hurricane Floyd hit the coast of South Carolina, killing 51 people and causing $6 billion in damage. A record 384 tornados touched down in 19 states the week of May 4-10, 2003, resulting in 42 fatalities. In addition, federal disaster aid has risen from $3.9 billion in the 1980's to $25.4 billion today. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has estimated that if a Category 4 hurricane were to hit Miami, it would cost $80 billion in damages. Statistics such as these have lead Congress to propose the National Windstorm Impact Reduction Program (NWIRP), or H.R. 3980, to improve our understanding of wind hazards and research possible mitigation strategies with the hope of minimizing the amount of damage and loss of lives from these windstorms.

Most Recent Action

On October 25, President Bush signed the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP) Reauthorization Act of 2004. Known as H.R. 2608, this new public law includes authorization for a new National Windstorm Impact Reduction Program for three years. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, "The new wind hazards program would promote research and other activities at FEMA, NIST, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NSF. The program is modeled after NEHRP and is aimed at studying the impact of wind on structures and on developing cost-effective ways to mitigate those impacts. The legislation authorizes $72.5 million over three years for this program." Rapid population growth and development in high wind risk coastal areas and an estimated $4.5 billion in windstorm damage each year between 1995 and 2002, have provided great impetus for the passage of this bill. (10/26/04)

Previous Action

On March 17, 2003, Representatives Randy Neugebauer (R-TX) and Dennis Moore (D-KS) introduced H.R. 3980, the National Windstorm Impact Reduction Act of 2004 (NWIRP). The objective of NWIRP is to achieve measurable reductions in losses of life and property from windstorms by improving our understanding of how wind impacts buildings, enhancing the scope and detail of damage data collection, and measuring the degree to which varying mitigation techniques can lessen that impact. This information will give policymakers, private industry, and individual homeowners the tools to make decisions that take windstorm vulnerability into consideration. The implementation of this bill will be a coordinated effort between academia, the private sector and federal agencies, which include the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST), the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). NWIRP will improve distribution of current research findings of cost-effective and affordable practices for design and construction professionals, develop cost-effective and affordable windstorm resistant systems, develop outreach techniques for the general public, and enable the marketplace to form incentives for considering wind hazards in buildings and designs. The bill also calls for the establishment of a National Advisory Committee on Windstorm Impact Reduction, comprised of non-Federal members, who would oversee the research and activities of NWIRP and monitor its progress.

The Wind Hazard Reduction Coalition, a group of 25 private organizations and companies, and the Wind Hazard Reduction Caucus, comprised of 34 members of Congress, have been working together to create this comprehensive federal program to minimize the losses due to windstorms before they occur. These groups have argued that the government only invests $5 million per year to develop and promote knowledge that would significantly reduce the damage caused by wind hazards. This amount, compared to the $100 million per year invested in earthquake reduction through the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program, is too small to adequately monitor and mitigate windstorm damages. Investing more money in research and mitigation efforts will payoff substantially by saving lives and property.

The House Science Committee met on March 31, 2004 to consider the bill. Chairman Boehlert (R-NY) offered a manager's amendment clarifying FEMA's role in the program and amending NSF reporting requirements to stagger the release of two statutorily required biennial reports unrelated to the program established by H.R. 3980. The amendment was adopted by voice vote.

Representative Gordon (D-TN) moved that the Committee report the bill, H.R. 3980, as amended, with the recommendation that the bill as amended do pass, that the staff be instructed to make technical and conforming changes to the bill as amended and prepare the legislative report, and that the Chairman take all necessary steps to bring the bill before the House for consideration. With a quorum present, the motion was agreed to by voice vote.

On June 28th, the House Committee on Science reported the National Windstorm Impact Reduction Program (NWIRP), H.R. 3980, with an amendment. It was then referred to the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, who discharged the bill to the House for a vote on July 7th. The bill was delayed until July 8th, however, to allow for discussion of the FY05 Commerce, Justice and State appropriations bill. The bill passed the House by a vote of 387-26. The intention of the bill is to encourage universities, the private sector, and the government to work together on mitigation strategies to minimize the human and infrastructure costs of damaging wind. The bill sets up an inter-agency working group that will be supervised by the White House Office of Science and Technology. H.R. 3980 authorizes a total of $20 million a year for the next three years, with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) each aurthorized to have $8 million, and $2 million each for the National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). (7/9/04)

Late in the day on October 6th the Senate passed H.R. 2608, the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP) Reauthorization Act, under unanimous consent. Included was the McCain-Nelson Amendment which effectively added H.R. 3980, the Windstorm Impact Reduction Act, onto the bill. This larger, omnibus hazards bill now must travel back to the House for their approval. It is expected that H.R. 2608 will be placed on the suspension calendar and voted on before Congress adjourns October 8th. (10/7/04)

Sources: Wind Hazard Reduction Caucus, THOMAS legislative database, House Science Committee website, Wind Hazard Reduction Coalition.

Contributed by Ashlee Dere, 2004 AGI/AIPG Summer Intern, David Millar 2004 AAPG/AGI Fall Semester Intern and Emily Lehr Wallace, Government Affairs Program

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Last updated on October 20, 2004