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
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
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.
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.
Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program.
Last updated on July 8, 2004.