Gov. Kay Ivey welcomes and introduces the Alabama Resilience Council at its first meeting on Aug. 30, 2023 in Montgomery. (Alander Rocha/Alabama Reflector)
A new state council Wednesday started developing responses to “harmful circumstances or harmful societal impacts” related to natural disasters.
But the meeting lacked any discussion of climate change, the major force behind those intensifying disasters.
The Alabama Resilience Council, holding its first meeting Wednesday, will focus on mitigating the impact of natural disasters, coordinating responses and building on existing state programs to prepare for future disasters, said Mark Fowler, co-chair of the council and Alabama Department of Insurance (ALDOI) commissioner, after the meeting.
“We started the foundation,” he said after the meeting. “So we laid the groundwork, we spurred ideas by talking about what we have been doing and how we can take what we’ve learned, what we have been doing and move that forward beyond just natural disasters.”
Gov. Kay Ivey, who spoke briefly at the meeting, said that “there’s no way to stop a hurricane from coming in or flooding areas.” Protecting Alabamians “physically and financially,” she said, should be a top priority for leaders in the state.”
“We can save lives, protect jobs, and ensure that our state’s future remains bright,” Ivey said.
Much of the meeting looked at Alabama’s existing storm mitigation strategies.
Roy Wright, president and chief operating officer at the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS), a scientific research and communications organization, gave a presentation on standards for building “FORTIFIED Homes.”
The standards include new construction methods that allow roofs to withstand winds of up to 150 mph and keep water from leaking through the wood under the roof shingles.
“While we can’t stop the storms from occurring, we can narrow paths of impact. We can prevent an avoidable set of losses,” Wright said.
There are three tiers of fortified homes, he said, and each adds more protection to the previous tier. A FORTIFIED Roof is designed to prevent storm damage and damage from EF-2 tornadoes. A second tier attempts to reinforce areas of a building at risk of damage from high winds and rain, and a third specifies the attachment of walls to roofs and foundations, aiming to keep homes in one piece.
Habitat for Humanity began using the standards in 2010, creating 10 fortified homes. The program took off once the Strengthen Alabama Homes programs, started in 2015, offered grants to Alabama residents to upgrade their existing, owner occupied, single-family homes. Wright said Alabama had over 42,000 of these homes in 2023. ALDOI puts the number of fortified homes in the state at 50,000, as of May. There are 2.3 million housing units in Alabama, according to the United States Census Bureau.
Wright said that Alabama has been building more fortified homes in the last few years, but it took “a series of nudges.”
“It took work with nonprofits like Habitat. It took builders who wanted to lean in an experiment that actually provided something that’s a greater value to those homes that they’re selling,” he said.
Funding for the program comes from fees paid by insurance companies to the Department of Insurance in Alabama.
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Alabama leads the Southeast region with more than 30,000 fortified homes, Wright said. North Carolina is second overall, with nearly 8,000 of these fortified homes.
Lars Powell, executive director of the Alabama Center for Insurance Information and Research located at the University of Alabama, said in his presentation that cyberattacks, which can disable computers or even networks until a ransom is paid to a cybercriminal, are also a concern during a natural disaster, particularly if they disrupt interagency communications.
“We’re not better off if we don’t have all of these pieces working together,” he said.
While officials discussed how to “build stronger, live safer and recover quicker,” the council’s slogan, members of the council did not speak of climate change during the 90-minute meeting, a major driver of the increase in the frequency and severity of the natural disasters under discussion.
The frequency of natural disasters have multiplied times five over the last 50 years, in part due to climate change, according to a 2021 report from the United Nations’ World Meteorological Organization.
Fowler said after the meeting that as the council moves forward, they will “be looking at everything.” He said they will look at science and facts as they move forward.
“We may address that in some shape or fashion,” Powell said. “How we do is all yet to be determined.”
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