Communities that act now to protect themselves from future hazards like earthquakes, hurricanes, floods and wildfires can save themselves as much as $11 for every $1 that they initially invest, according to new research.

The findings are part of an update to “Natural Hazard Mitigation Saves" report from CU Boulder.

The report examines how homeowners, developers and municipalities might save lives and money in the long term by implementing a variety of mitigation efforts before a disaster strikes. That might mean raising houses above floodplains or strengthening office buildings against earthquakes. 

Savings by the numbers
  • $11 for every $1 spent: Meeting building codes
  • $6 for every $1 spent: Applying federal grants for mitigation
  • $4 for every $1 spent: Exceeding building codes
  • $4 for every $1 spent: Improving utility, roads, highways and railroads
  • $4 for every $1 spent: Protecting communities from wildfires

“Natural hazard mitigation saves,” said Keith Porter, a research professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering. “Mitigation can be a costly decision, but this study should help people to make a more informed choice about how to save their property and their wellbeing.” 

His research shows that communities in the United States stand to save billions of dollars by making sure that new structures meet, or exceed, the International Building Code—a set of widely-adopted recommendations for designing safe buildings. Such measures could also prevent an estimated 600 deaths and one million injuries at the same time.  

More stringent codes can limit some of the biggest losses from such events, Porter said.  Most states and communities in the U.S. have requirements for how buildings weather natural hazards. But research suggest that they may not go far enough, and many older buildings still fall short of the codes.

Porter and his colleagues used data from past disasters and computer simulations that test how buildings might respond to future floods, hurricanes, earthquakes and wildfires.  They found that while the benefits vary from place to place, communities in the U.S. on average may save $11 in the decades ahead for every $1 they spend now to meet current building codes. Going beyond those codes can bring an extra $4 for every $1 spent.

Those gains come in a variety of forms. When buildings are built to better withstand earthquakes, for example, more stores stay open after a big tremor and fewer people go to the hospital for injuries. 

The new round of numbers, together with a related report published last year, were also the first to look at the benefits that come from safeguarding buildings against wildfires. According to the team’s calculations, communities living at the edges of forests can save $4 for every $1 they spend to plan ahead for flames. Common recommendations include creating “defensible” spaces free of brush and other flammable material around homes.