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USGNN Original StoryBuilding Code Adoptions Help Make Gulf States More Prepared for Gustav and Other Hurricanes

Memories of 2005's Hurricane Katrina were all too clear for much of the Gulf Coast this past weekend as the threat of Hurricane Gustav loomed before the region. Fortunately, Gustav, which made landfall yesterday morning as a category 2, was not nearly as damaging as many had expected.

According to initial estimates from Risk Management Solutions (RMS), a provider of products and services for catastrophe risk management, insured losses from Hurricane Gustav could range between $4 billion and $10 billion (Katrina is estimated to have caused $81.2 billion). The Gustav damage estimate includes on and offshore losses from wind and storm surges, but does not include potential damage to the levees in New Orleans or flooding from excessive rainfall that may occur the days following the storm.

While Gustav impacted a similar region as Katrina, much has changed in the Gulf States over the past three years; some changes may have helped the area be more prepared for this storm as well as ones that could occur in the future. One of the most important changes has been the adoption of statewide building codes. Before Hurricane Katrina, some states along the Gulf Coast did not enforce building codes as stringently as other hurricane-prone states, such as Florida. But just as Hurricane Andrew changed Florida and its codes, Katrina did much of the same for the Gulf States. Nanette Lockwood, director of legislative affairs for Solutia Inc., was very involved in legislative efforts that lead to the adoption of buildings codes in some parts of the Gulf Coast. She shared with™ some ways that the states are different today compared to three years ago.

  • Louisiana has a modern, statewide building code in place through new legislation with requirements for enforcement. Coastal adoption began in March 2006 and the rest of the state after January 2007.

"Enforcement started slowly with lots of educational challenges, but has significantly improved. Only 13 jurisdictions were enforcing updated codes prior to Katrina and 362 are doing so today," says Lockwood. "Consequently, new and significantly renovated homes and businesses should be hurricane resistant for the first time in most areas."

  • Mississippi also has a modern statewide building code in place through new legislation for schools throughout the state.

"Modern wind and flood requirements apply through new legislation to new and significantly renovated homes and businesses in five coastal and southern counties," says Lockwood. "Older codes throughout the state must be updated to state code in 2010 per newly adopted legislation in 2008. Unfortunately, areas not enforcing codes are still not required to enforce the state code."

  • Alabama has a modern statewide building code previously in place through legislation for hotel, movie theatres and state-owned buildings and schools. According to Lockwood, attempts to pass legislation that would require a statewide code for new homes and businesses failed in each of the last two sessions.

"However, many coastal jurisdictions have updated to modern building codes in anticipation of successful legislation in the 2009 session," she adds.

  • In 2005 Florida's modern statewide building code in place throughout state excluded the panhandle via legislation, but new legislation eliminated that exemption in 2007.

"From a building code perspective, Florida is now the most hurricane-resistant state in the United States, which is important since it is also our most hurricane-prone state with more than two times the major hurricane strikes (category three or higher) than any other state," says Lockwood. "All in all, our Gulf coast is more hurricane resistant than ever before, but it has a way to go before we can truly call it hurricane ready," she adds.

Stay tuned to this week for more post Hurricane Gustav reports.

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