By Joseph Myers

In declaring May "National Building Safety Month," President Obama has provided some much-needed momentum to bipartisan legislation pending in Congress that would incentivize states to adopt and enforce model building codes as a disaster-mitigation strategy.

The Safe Building Code Incentive Act, which has garnered the support of several members of Congress from Florida, including U.S. Reps. Steve Southerland, Mario Diaz-Balart, Allen West, Jeff Miller, Daniel Webster, David Rivera, Thomas Rooney and Dennis Ross, would provide states that adopt and enforce model building codes adhering to the standards issued by the International Code Council with an additional 4 percent of post-disaster relief grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Florida is one of 16 states that would immediately qualify for additional disaster-relief assistance upon enactment of the Safe Building Code Incentive Act. But the real value of the legislation would be the powerful motivation it would provide to other states to follow the Sunshine State's lead and put strong building codes into law.

As someone who has spent his career in the emergency management field, I can attest that model building codes provide our best first line of defense against hurricanes, tornadoes and other natural disasters. When homes and office buildings are constructed by modern building science, it is simply harder for Mother Nature to knock them down. In the wake of Hurricane Andrew, Florida made a commitment to achieve the gold standard for maximizing the benefits of strong building codes. If more states would learn from our lessons, the nation would be more resilient.

The widespread adoption of strong building codes would better protect property, save lives and ultimately reduce taxpayer exposure to natural disasters. The problem is far too few states have model building codes on their books or lack the enforcement mechanisms to give their codes real teeth.

I commend the above-mentioned lawmakers from the Florida delegation for their leadership in promoting the Safe Building Code Incentive Act. This legislation provides a proactive strategy for better preparing the nation when major storms strike our communities.

Given the high level of tornado activity this year and the fact that climate experts are predicting more extreme weather patterns in the months and years ahead, our elected officials in Congress should place the Safe Building Code Incentive Act on a fast track and pass it before hurricane season commences in June.

In promoting building safety, Obama wrote that "resilient infrastructure is essential to an America built to last, and during National Building Safety Month, we recommit to strengthening our nation's ability to withstand the threats and hazards we face."

Passage of the Safe Building Code Incentive Act would strengthen the president's commitment to building safety and provide a clear road map for state lawmakers and governors to better fortify their state's defenses against nature's forces.

The Safe Building Code Incentive Act is one vital piece of legislation that can let Democratic and Republican policymakers reach across the aisle to do something lasting for the American people.

This bill would make a major difference for homeowners, small businesses and taxpayers. According to a study commissioned by FEMA, for every $1 invested in pre-storm mitigation such as the promotion of strong building codes, the nation reaps $4 of economic benefits. Further research conducted by Louisiana State University's Hurricane Center estimated that strong building codes, had they been in widespread use in the Gulf states, could have reduced wind damage from Hurricane Katrina by 80 percent, saving $8 billion. And yet another study, conducted by the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety, estimated Florida's strong building codes reduced property damage from Hurricane Charley in 2004 by more than 40 percent.

The scientific evidence supporting the effectiveness of strong building codes is overwhelming. Now it's time for Congress to act and make building to strong codes the national norm instead of the exception.

To read the full op-ed click here: http://www2.tbo.com/news/opinion/2012/may/18/naopino2-disaster-aid-bill-beneficial-to-florida-ar-404923/

Joseph Myers is a former director of Florida's Division of Emergency Management and a two-time past president of the National Emergency Managers Association. He lives in Tallahassee.