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Summary of Hearings on Wind Hazards (7-8-04)

  • February 9, 2004: Full Committee Field Hearing on Strengthening Windstorm Hazard Mitigation: An Examination of Public and Private Efforts
  • March 24, 2004: House Science Subcommittee and House Environment, Technology, and Standards Subcommittee, Hearing on H.R. 3980, National Windstorm Impact Reduction Act of 2004

House Committee on Science
Full Committee Hearing on Strengthening Windstorm Hazard Mitigation: An Examination of Public and Private Efforts
February 9, 2004

Dr. Ernst Kiesling, Professor of Civil Engineering at Texas Tech University
Dr. Bogusz Bienkiewicz, Professor of Civil Engineering and Director of the Wind Engineering and Fluids Laboratory at Colorado State University (on behalf of the American Association of Wind Engineering)
Dr. Charles Meade, Senior Scientist at RAND and author of a report entitled "Assessing Federal Research Developments for Hazard Loss Reduction," prepared for the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) in 2003
Brian Shofner, President of Shofner & Associates Insurance Agency

The Committee on Science held a field hearing in Lubbock, Texas on February 9, 2004, to receive testimony on the status of windstorm hazard mitigation in the United States, and to consider the role of federal R&D in windstorm hazard reduction. In 1970, one of strongest recorded tornados struck this area, killing 26 people and injuring 500 more. Over $135 million in damages resulted from the 200 mph winds of the tornado. Committee Chairman Boehlert (R-NY) oversaw the meeting, asking the witnesses numerous questions on the merits of the proposed program. Overarching questions included the vulnerability of built structures in the country, extent of prior wind hazard mitigation efforts, existing gaps in data, and benefits to non-federal entities. Testimony given by Dr. Meade focused on the level of risk and current research and development spending. He told the Committee that America is becoming more vulnerable to wind hazards due to increasing population density around the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts and the increased frequency of manufactured, as opposed to conventional, houses built in the Midwest. He commented that it has been difficult to quantify the amount of money spent annually on research and development, but it was clear that natural hazards in general received the smallest proportion of these funds, with wind hazards receiving over ten times less than earthquake funding. Meade's testimony also illustrated how the cost from damages done by natural disasters has risen significantly in the past decade, but the loss of life has steadily declined as a result of improved warning systems and shelters.

Both Dr. Kiesling and Dr. Bienkiewicz shared with the Committee some of the practical results they have found by researching wind hazards and emphasized that increasing funds would allow for even more research that would benefit those living in hazard-prone areas. Their work at separate universities has tested the strength of various structures and has highlighted possible changes to building codes that would make structures more resistant to damage during windstorms. Brian Shofner, representing several insurance agencies, also endorsed more funding for wind hazard research, citing the insurance industry's lack of knowledge concerning how to mitigate wind damages. He told the Committee that insurance companies have excellent data concerning the cost of the damages, but, due to a lack of knowledge, have been unable to offer incentives for clients who implement mitigation strategies. He suggested that stringent building codes would be very helpful in areas prone to catastrophic winds.

House Science Subcommittee on Research and House Subcommittee on Environment, Technology and Standards
Joint Hearing on H.R. 3980, The National Windstorm Impact Reduction Act of 2004

March 24, 2004

Dr. John Brighton, Assistant Director for Engineering at the National Science Foundation (NSF)
Anthony Lowe, Administrator of the Federal Insurance Mitigation Administration (A division of FEMA within the Department of Homeland Security)
Dr. Steven L. McCabe, Professor of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering at the University of Kansas, on behalf of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE)
Jeffrey Sciaudone, Director of Engineering and Technical Services for the Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS)
Edward Laatsch, Chief of the FEMA Building Science and Technology Branch, accompanied Mr. Lowe
Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman, Chair Professor and Director of the International Hurricane Research Center & Laboratory for Coastal Research at Florida International University (written testimony)
Randall G. Pence, President of Capitol Hill Advocates, Inc., on behalf of the National Concrete Masonry Association (written testimony)

On March 24, 2004, the Subcommittee on Research and the Subcommittee on Environment, Technology, and Standards of the House Science Committee held a joint hearing to receive testimony on H.R. 3980, National Windstorm Impact Reduction Act of 2004 and to consider the role of federal research and development in windstorm hazard reduction.

At the hearing, Dr. Brighton and Mr. Lowe both touted their agencies' support for windstorm hazard reduction measures, but qualified this support with moderate concerns about the bill. NSF testimony outlined current agency support for research related to the atmospheric, engineering, and social aspects of windstorm hazard reduction, but also noted its concern with the "unintended consequences of codifying research programs into law." FEMA testified that the resource and cost burden associated with an external advisory committee for a relatively small program ($67.5 million over 3 years) would be excessive. Dr. McCabe emphasized the problem of increasing vulnerability to windstorms, discussed how a coordinated interagency program would help to reduce this problem, and presented a specific plan to the Subcommittees on how such a program might be structured. Dr. McCabe and ASCE maintain that more resources should be focused on reducing vulnerability and that additional spending in this area would actually be a "moneymaker" because of the eventual post-hazard savings that would result. Mr. Sciaudone emphasized that no significant progress will be made in reducing vulnerability unless mitigation measures either become mandatory or cost-competitive. He also noted that in forming an advisory committee, it would be important to include groups such as the homebuilders that have first-hand knowledge on how to best strengthen buildings.

Sources: Wind Hazards Coalition, House Science Committee.

Contributed by Ashlee Dere, 2004 AIG/AIPG Summer Intern.

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Last updated on July 8, 2004.

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