The U.S. House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Research and Technology and Subcommittee on Environment held a joint hearing on December 4 to discuss reauthorizing the National Windstorm Impact Reduction Program (NWIRP).
Several witnesses presented testimonies urging Congress to reauthorize the program, which began in 2004 with the intention of measurably reducing the loss of life and property from windstorms through an improved understanding of risks and impact.
The program accomplishes these goals by gathering and presenting data and information about the impact of windstorms, along with practices that can be implemented to reduce those impacts. The combined efforts of several federal agencies, along with academia and private sector organizations, support the development, adoption and enforcement of building codes and other mitigation strategies.
The previous success of the program was outlined in the testimonies of organization leaders, including representatives from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Kansas Homeland Security, the National Wind Institute of Texas Tech University and the International Code Council (ICC).
Among those testifying was Ryan Colker, ICC vice president of innovation and executive director of the Alliance for National and Community Resilience (ANCR). Colker presented arguments representing ICC’s support for reauthorizing the program for another five years.
His testimony emphasized the program’s success, as Colker said he is optimistic that support will lead to reauthorization.
“Overall, the hearing was very productive,” Colker said. “We had engaged congressional members from both sides of the aisle who are very much interested in addressing windstorms,” he added. But Colker said despite support and visible success, the largest challenge remains limited funding. When NWIRP was last re-authorized in 2015, the budget was about $21.4 million, he said, which he suggested, “in the grand scheme of things, is a drop in the bucket.”
For comparison, Colker pointed to the National Earthquake Hazard Reduction program, which received $164 million in 2019.
“There is a disconnect between the level of risk and the amount of funding,” he said. But, “Congress has definitely recognized the impact and challenge of dealing with the aftermath of a disaster,” he added. “All this data points to how much we can reduce the toll by implementing codes and standards before anything happens.”
For instance, NWIRP-supported research and publications led to the development of an International Building Code requirement that K-12 schools and emergency responder facilities in tornado-prone regions include storm shelters. Colker’s written testimony pointed to the fact that there have been no fatalities in properly designed and constructed storm shelters.