Estimating the Value of Foresight: Aggregate Analysis of Natural Hazard Mitigation Benefits and Costs

Publication Type: 
David R. Godschalk
Adam Z. Rose
Elliott Mittler
Keith Porter
Carol Taylor West
Hazard mitigation planners claim that foresighted present actions and investments produce significant future benefits. However, they have difficulty in supporting their claims, since previously their evidence typically was derived from individual case studies. Constituents and decision makers are often sceptical, believing that individual cases are either inapplicable to their situation or non-randomly selected to support a particular view. Planners need objective evidence based on a large body of experience to support the case for mitigation. Such is the unique contribution of a recent U.S. study that found that each dollar spent in three federal natural hazard mitigation grant programs (the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, Project Impact, and the Flood Mitigation Assistance Program) saves society an average of $4 in future avoided losses. Complementing the aggregate benefit-cost analysis with community-based evaluations, the study yielded insights on how planners can improve long-term community resilience in the face of extreme events. Valuable lessons for mitigation planners and policy makers emerged: the need to consider a wide variety of losses, the importance of mixing qualitative with quantitative analysis, the value of averaging results over a large number of projects, and the need to more explicitly address social issues and data collection in order to reduce vulnerability and enhance resilience to cope with twenty-first century hazards.