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Kansas Saves More than Anyone from Mitigating Disasters

A tornado destroyed houses in Linwood, Kansas, last month. (Photo by Nomin Ujiyediin / Kansas News Service)

Build higher, build stronger — it pays off big in Kansas.

Disaster mitigation investments in Kansas yielded more savings than efforts in any other state, a new study found. The Pew Charitable Trusts listed Missouri as a close second.

Pew crunched numbers from a previous study that looked at federal disaster mitigation grants between 1993 and 2016. The paper compares spending against the potential costs that were avoided.

The report shows that every dollar spent in Kansas to protect against flood and tornado damage saved $6.81. In Missouri each dollar saved $6.72.

“The takeaway for policy makers really should be that investing in mitigation saves,” said Colin Foard, one of the authors of the study.

The savings come from avoiding property repairs, casualties, disruptions to businesses and administrative expenses related to insurance.

The findings come at a time when Kansas residents are dealing with flooding affecting most of the state and cleaning up from recent tornadoes.

The study looked at the continental U.S. and considered mitigation programs aimed at averting costs from earthquakes, fires, floods and wind damage.

The mitigation efforts in Kansas and Missouri addressed only the threats of wind and flooding, but those projects had such a large payback that the two states topped the rankings.

The smallest payback was in earthquake- and fire-prone California, but the study still estimated that every dollar of mitigation in the Golden State saved $3.26.

Mitigation can include adding storm shelters and structural updates to buildings that reduce damage from tornadoes. When it comes to combating floods, officials can remove structures from flood-prone areas or require building structures higher to avoid flood damage.

Over the 23-year period that was examined, the report found the state and federal government spent around $220 million dollars on wind and flood mitigation in Kansas, which netted about $1.5 billion dollars in savings.

Federal programs play a major role in disaster mitigation in Kansas and elsewhere.

“The mitigation projects that the Kansas Division of Emergency Management are able to support or implement are largely reliant on the federal grants,” said Bryan Murdie, director of the Planning and Mitigation Branch at the Kansas Division of Emergency Management.

Looking ahead, state officials are turning their attention to the new National Mitigation Investment Strategy, developed in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. That storm hit the East Coast in 2012 causing $65 billion in damage. The program is still in the draft stage, but Murdie expects it will go live soon.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency describes the strategy as a broader shift to preventing damage and loss from disasters.

The strategy will include investments in larger infrastructure improvements such as levees. The range of projects will also include smaller local improvements such as installing warning sirens and demolishing buildings in flood-prone areas.

Murdie said state officials hope to have assistance in the future for Kansans to upgrade their homes.

“Our office has begun the initial steps towards a residential safe room program that will help protect the citizens of Kansas,” Murdie said in an email.

The federal programs typically include a match that must be paid by the state or the local government receiving the grant. Those local matches are often 25 percent, but can be smaller in certain cases where the community is impoverished or the program is targeting an area that’s been repeatedly flooded.

Foard said it’s worth it for governments to find ways to fit mitigation costs into their budgets.

“This analysis shows that it can be a great return on investment for the money spent."

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