A chance to fend off our next hurricane

The Daily News (Galveston County)

Bennie Thompson

The 2009 hurricane season came to a quiet end without a single hurricane making U.S. landfall. This temporary reprieve is a welcome contrast to the 2008 hurricane season, which brought Hurricane Gustav and then Hurricane Ike, the third most destructive hurricane ever to make it onshore.

As we closed the books to an uneventful 2009 season, we couldn’t let a quiet hurricane season lull us into a false sense of security or take our focus off critical lessons learned from Hurricane Ike’s wrath.

Stephen Leatherman, director of the International Hurricane Research Center, has released the “10 Most Vulnerable U.S. Mainland Areas to Hurricanes,” and the Galveston/Houston area ranks sixth on the list.

Texas has a great opportunity to take advantage of this quiet season to prepare itself by getting a head start. According to a study by the National Institute of Building Sciences, for every $1 spent on mitigation, about $4 are saved in reduced losses.

As chairman of the U.S. House of representatives’ Homeland Security Committee, I have introduced legislation aimed at helping Americans strengthen their homes through stronger mitigation policy incentives.

These pre-disaster mitigation initiatives will help people and communities better prepare for natural disasters in three ways — by providing states with funds for projects that lessen risks and directly benefit low- and moderate-income homeowners, as well as the less addressed population of apartment residents and small business owners; by providing hazard-mitigation funds and support to affordable-housing providers so that our most vulnerable residents are protected from nature’s wrath; and by providing grants to support innovative first-responder programs.

Congress must help people living in hurricane-prone areas take proactive loss-mitigation steps to protect their property by encouraging risk-based insurance rates as well as public and private investments in pre-disaster mitigation.

By taking responsible, proactive steps, we can all do our part to help protect people living in hurricane-prone coastal areas. Through mitigation, we can ensure natural disasters don’t turn into financial disasters.

It’s my hope that these mitigation policies help serve as an important step toward accomplishing this goal.

Congressman Bennie Thompson is chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Homeland Security.