Harris Announces $1B for Disaster Spending


At the beginning of the month, U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris announced more than $1 billion in federal spending for disasters to be made available through a series of grants.

The grants—awarded to states to help communities across the nation prepare and respond to natural disasters—arrive in wake of the recent deadly flooding experienced in Kentucky and California wildfires.

“Climate change has become a climate crisis, and a threat has now become a reality,″ Harris said in a speech at Florida International University, where she announced the grants. “The devastation is real. The harm is real. The impact is real. And we are witnessing it in real-time.″

Grant Program Details

According to reports, the Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) program is funded through FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund and the bipartisan infrastructure law signed by President Joe Biden last year.

“Communities across our nation are experiencing first-hand the devastating impacts of the climate change and the related extreme weather events that follow — more energized hurricanes with deadlier storm surges, increased flooding and a wildfire season that’s become a year-long threat,” said FEMA head Deanne Criswell.

The program will support states, local communities, tribes and territories on projects aimed at reducing climate-related hazards and preparing for natural disasters, such as floods and wildfires.

The allotted $1 billion in funding is noted to be double what was provided last year. In addition, the program will also be offering another $160 million for flood mitigation assistance.

In a statement, President Biden reported that spending for disaster relief and preparations would be doubled yet again in the budget year (which begins in October), totaling $2.3 billion for communities.

The funding will be awarded through programs like BRIC and others administered by FEMA, the Department of Health and Human Services and other agencies sharing the goal of reducing heat-related illness and protecting public health.

Other Ongoing Programs, Funding Announcements

In January, the Department of Housing and Urban Development issued the Allocations for Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery and Implementation of the CDBG-DR Consolidated Waivers and Alternative Requirements Notice (2020 CDBG-DR Notice).

The action reportedly opened access to more than $2 billion in federal funds to help communities equitably recover and improve long-term resilience to disasters and future climate impacts.

According to HUD’s Consolidated Notice, Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) grantees will be required to incorporate disaster mitigation measures into all its recovery activities involving construction and explain how it plans to advance equitable distribution of the disaster recovery assistance.

The Consolidated Notice applies to more than $2 billion in CDBG-DR funds allocated by the Department in November 2021, funds appropriated in the continuing resolution and the Extending Government Funding and Delivering Emergency Assistance Act (PL 117-43; the Act), which was signed into law on Sept. 30, 2021.

At the time of its signing, the PL 117-43 appropriated $5 billion in CDBG-DR funds with a focus on mitigation for major disasters that occurred in 2020 and 2021. Allocation of the remaining funds will be made over the next few months to address unmet needs from disasters occurring in 2021.

In recognizing that low-income residents and people of color make up the majority of those most affected by climate-related disasters, HUD’s Consolidated Notice plans to accelerate community recovery and ensure that inclusive resilience and mitigation remain central to disaster recovery.

Beyond the Consolidated Notice, HUD also recognizes equitable resilience as a core component of its Climate Action Plan and affirms its commitment with the Biden-Harris Administration.

Some months later, in June, officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Biden-Harris Administration announced a national initiative to advance building codes. According to a fact sheet released by the White House on the same day, the new building codes initiative will boost resilience to the impacts of climate change, lower utility bills for homes and businesses, and prioritize underserved communities.

The initiative sets out to help state, local, Tribal and territorial governments adopt the latest, current building codes and standards created to make communities more resilient to hurricanes, flooding, wildfires and other extreme weather events that are intensifying due to climate change.

While the White House reports that nearly two out of every three communities have failed to adopt modern building codes, smart design or updated construction methods, earlier this year President Biden’s National Climate Task Force approved the new National Initiative to Advance Building Codes to accelerate the process.

The combination of efforts is slated to improve resiliency, create good-paying jobs and lower energy bills. Through the initiative, the Biden-Harris Administration will:

  • Comprehensively review federal funding and financing of building construction;
  • Harness $225 million in bipartisan infrastructure law funding for the Department of Energy;
  • Provide incentives and support for communities to adopt current building codes and standards; and
  • Lead by example across the federal building portfolio.

The Administration went on to note that communities that have already adopted modern building codes are saving an estimated $1.6 billion a year in avoided damage from major hazards, with projected cumulative savings of $132 billion through 2040—a figure that will become much higher if more communities adopt modern codes.

In a recent analysis where states were categorized based on building code uptake, FEMA found that 39 states fell into the lowest category—meaning that less than 25% of the state’s communities were covered by the latest hazard-resistant codes. On a nationwide scale, FEMA added that roughly 35% of counties, cities and towns have the latest codes in place.

To address this issue, in an all-of-government commitment made by the Biden-Harris Administration, key federal agencies will collaborate through a Mitigation Framework Leadership Group (MitFLG) to increase support and incentives for modern code adoption.

More recently, at the beginning of the month, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration announced a first-of-its-kind infrastructure program to help states prepare for and respond to extreme weather events. The new $7.3 billion Promoting Resilient Operations for Transformative, Efficient, and Cost-Saving Transportation (PROTECT) Formula Program funding is available through President Joe Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure law.

The PROTECT program offers the funding to states over five years to make transportation infrastructure more resilient to future weather events and other natural disasters, such as wildfires, flooding and extreme heat. The focus will be on resilience planning, making resilience improvements to existing transportation assets and evacuation routes, and addressing at-risk highway infrastructure.

According to the FHWA, in general, eligible projects include highway and transit projects, bicycle and pedestrian facilities, and port facilities including those that help improve evacuations or disaster relief. States are encouraged to work with regional and local partner organizations to prioritize transportation, emergency response improvements and address vulnerabilities.

Eligible improvements can involve adapting existing transportation infrastructure or new construction to keep communities safe by bolstering infrastructure’s ability to withstand extreme weather events and other physical hazards. Additionally, projects may include the use of natural or green infrastructure to buffer future storm surges and provide flood protection, as well as aquatic ecosystem restoration.

The FHWA reports that PROTECT builds on other USDOT actions to support the Biden Administration’s approach to reducing greenhouse gas pollution by 2030. These actions include a proposed rule for states and municipalities to track and reduce greenhouse gas emissions; the Carbon Reduction Program, which will provide $6.4 billion in formula funding to states and local governments to develop carbon reduction strategies; and the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) Formula Program, which will provide $5 billion to states to build out a national electric vehicle charging network.

Recently Released Standards, Disaster Framework

In addition to the U.S. government acting through various funding programs and grants, several new standards were also released promoting the protection of infrastructure and post-disaster care.

Starting back in December, the American Society of Civil Engineers announced the release of its newly updated ASCE/SEI 7-22 with the goal of better protecting infrastructure from tornado damage.

According to ASCE, the Minimum Design Loads and Associated Criteria for Buildings and Other Structures standard is the Society’s most widely used professional standard and a critical tool in a civil engineer’s commitment to protecting the health, safety and welfare of the public.

Reported to be the first of its kind in the world, the new ASCE standard offers guidance to protect buildings from tornadoes ranking from 0 to 2 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, which translates to winds ranging from 40 mph at the bottom of EF0 to 157 mph at the top of EF2.

The new standard arrives just weeks after twisters riddled the Midwest, leaving thousands without homes and 77 dead. Research posted by U.S. Tornadoes suggests that approximately 80% of tornadoes in the nation rate between EF0 to EF1 strength, while the tornado that struck Kentucky was reported to rank anywhere between an EF3 and an EF5.

In superseding the ASCE/SEI 7-16 standard, the new edition also provides up-to-date and coordinated loading provisions for general structural design for all hazards including dead, live, soil, flood, tsunami, snow, rain, atmospheric ice, seismic, wind and fire, as well as how to evaluate load combinations.

The new provisions, the Society reports, are not meant for residential construction, but rather for critical infrastructure such as hospitals and fire stations. In gathering data to provide the update, the committee reportedly drew on new models for more accurate snow load and developed a new multipoint seismic spectrum for certain soft-soil sites.

Due to the infancy of the research, storms ranked EF3 or higher were not included in the newly published guidelines. However, once more research is complete, Don Scott, the chair of the ASCE-7 Wind Load subcommittee, told reporters that more severe storms could be accounted for.

According to the new updated standards, new recommendations include making windows impact-resistant, establishing continuous load paths and replacing toenail trusses with steel clips, among others.

Additionally, the ASCE 7-22 now requires use of digital data uniquely identified in hazard-specific geodatabases for all environmental hazards. The digital data is available via open access from the ASCE 7 Hazard Tool while a print version is available as a two-volume paperback set or as a PDF.

The standard is slated to go up for consideration sometime this year to be entered into Chapter 16 of the 2024 International Building Code.

In March, the World Green Building Council (WorldGBC) announced the launch of its Sustainable Reconstruction & Recovery Framework, which intends to serve communities as a “post-disaster toolkit” when building back better throughout the Southern and Eastern Mediterranean regions, and beyond.

The Framework was developed by the WorldGBC, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), UN Habitat and Green Building Councils in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Palestine. The toolkit reportedly builds upon the body of existing WorldGBC frameworks for Health and Wellbeing and Whole Life Carbon, as well as EBRD’s Environmental and Social Policies and corresponding Performance Requirements.

Structured around six themes that emphasize disaster risk reduction, the toolkit also focuses on sustainable urban reconstruction of the physical environment, the restoration of communities and how social and cultural life can be supported and revitalized.

While the Framework does not propose a “one-size-fits-all” solution, it does layout key issues and methods for best practices in the event of a disaster. From the collection of issues and themes, stakeholders—such as local communities, international and local donors, academic institutions and public entities, among others—can then couple recommended strategies through time frames across a built environment life cycle.

These are proposed as four phases, including: Assessment and Preparation; Planning and Design; Implementation & Construction; and Operation and Maintenance. Before the Framework can work effectively, creators of the document have also specified that the cessation of violence, governance and finance must be identified or else reconstruction and recovery efforts can not be carried out successfully.

Around the same time, the ASCE released a new evaluation framework regarding earthquake damage and potential fire ignitions. In its new report, the ASCE’s Post-Earthquake Fire Hazard Task Group, along with the Fire Protection Committee of the Structural Engineering Institute, evaluate how earthquake damage can increase the likelihood of fire ignitions regarding utility lines and interior fire protection systems.

The document also presents background for the analysis, design and assessment of building structural systems under fire following earthquakes, as well as guidance based on current state-of-the-art practices, applicable building codes and outcomes of experimental and numerical research results.


Tagged categories: Certifications and standards; Construction; Disasters; Funding; Good Technical Practice; Government; Grants; Health & Safety; Health and safety; Maintenance + Renovation; NA; North America; President Biden; Program/Project Management; Projects - Commercial; Safety

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