As hurricane season approaches, a new proposed set of initiatives could could cut the spiraling cost of storm-related damages along America’s coastlines by as much as half. More than 50 percent of the nation’s population lives in coastal areas, many of them retirees and other older homeowners.
The report, “Resilient Coasts: A Blueprint for Action,” released Thursday by the nonprofits Ceres and the Heinz Center and endorsed by public officials, insurers, builders, risk experts and conservation groups, urged local and federal officials to:
- Improve climate risk models to better predict powerful storms and rising seas;
- Preserve storm-buffering wetlands;
- Strengthen building codes;
- Restrict development in risky areas prone to flooding and other disasters.
According to a University of Pennsylvania Wharton School study released in March 2008, building homes in Florida to stronger construction code standards could cut losses from a severe hurricane by 61 percent, at a savings of $51 billion. It said South Carolina, New York and Texas could curb damages between 34 and 44 percent.
Mayor Joe Riley of Charleston, S.C., who endorsed the coalition’s findings, says rising sea levels are a particular threat to his region. He says that if levels increase by just one foot, some properties a half-mile inland would be inundated.
“Charleston is one of our nation’s treasures, and without serious action today to confront these risks, it—and many other American cities—faces an uncertain future,” Riley said.
Christophe Tulou, director of the Resilient Coasts Initiative for the nonprofit Heinz Center in Washington, says the blueprint was designed to drive policy both locally and federally.
“For the first time, this says there’s a whole lot of people with different interests—from insurers and environmentalists to community activists—who have a common cause in terms of making our coastal communities safer,” Tulou said.
The Heinz Center, whose mission is to improve the scientific and economic foundation for environmental policy, took the lead in developing the blueprint along with Ceres, a coalition of investors, environmental groups and public interest advocates involved with sustainability issues such as global climate change. Lloyd’s, the giant London insurance market, and insurance companies such as Travelers and Fireman’s Fund helped write the blueprint.
Meanwhile, many of the nation’s insurers continue to pull out from coastal regions, leaving many homeowners without access to affordable coverage. In February, State Farm, the largest private insurer in Florida, became the latest company to announce that it would be exiting the state.
Carolyn Gorman, a spokeswoman for the Insurance Information Institute, a trade group, says insurers are retreating from high-risk coastal areas because they cannot charge a sound market rate for the risk they are taking in insuring properties there. But if some of the changes outlined in the blueprint were adopted, she says, that could change.
Carole Fleck is a senior editor at the AARP Bulletin.