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“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Many of you know that Benjamin Franklin coined that phrase. It has become an adage in the fire service, one that I like to use myself when speaking on the issue of prevention and mitigation.
Now, Congress has an opportunity to make Mr. Franklin proud – to do something that has the potential of saving billions of federal dollars and, more importantly, human lives. But it is going to require some pushing and prodding from public safety and other stakeholders to convince Congress to take the required action.
There is a piece of legislation pending in both the House and the Senate titled the Safe Building Code Incentive Act (HR 1878 and S. 924) that would do just that. Succinctly put, the bill offers an incentive to states for adopting and enforcing model building codes. The operative word in this measure is “incentive.” This is not big government forcing its will on states and local communities; instead, this measure creates an incentive for states to adopt model building codes. It does not penalize states, but instead rewards them for good policy. These states would become eligible for an additional 4% in post-disaster Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grants.
The Congressional Fire Services Institute (CFSI) is part of an advocacy group called the BuildStrong Coalition that is encouraging Congress to approve the legislation. The CFSI staff has attended numerous meetings with congressional staff on Capitol Hill to discuss the importance of the measure. The BuildStrong Coalition is a broad-based group of associations that represent civil engineers, architects, insurance companies, code organizations and public safety. In meetings with congressional staff, association representatives share their perspectives on the measure, adding important pieces of information to the mosaic of why this legislation can make communities across America safer. For the most part, the staff has been very receptive; however, if there’s one concern that we’ve heard from each staffer, it’s the cost.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, the Safe Building Code Incentive Act would cost the federal government approximately $225 million over five years – certainly not a trifle amount. However, Congress needs to take off its blinders and see how much this legislation can save the federal treasury.
Every dollar spent on mitigation can save the federal government $4 in future benefits. But the climate on Capitol Hill is such that few members are willing to heed Ben Franklin’s words if it costs money. Members of Congress – especially those seeking reelection – are hesitant to lend their name to legislation that might portray them as “big spenders.” Yet on the other hand, most show little hesitancy to vote for supplemental spending measures for major disasters, particularly when it’s their district or state that’s been hit. Don’t get me wrong – I do support emergency supplementals, but I think taking proactive measures to reduce the need for these emergency bills is an even better solution.
If Congress and the Administration want to make our communities safer...if they want to protect their citizens against major disasters…if they want to reduce the annual federal cost each year for recovery efforts following natural disasters…then they should sign their names to the Safe Building Code Incentive Act.
The BuildStrong Coalition has a website (www.buildstrongamerica.com) that contains information about the legislation and reasons why Congress should approve it.