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Seven-digit grant seen as a potential huge shot in the arm

Wind mitigation study to pave way

One of the major hurdles in post-Hurricane Katrina construction on the Mississippi Gulf Coast is wind mitigation. Questions abound concerning homes being built to withstand future hurricanes. These questions must be answered for a multitude of reasons, not the least of which is eligibility for wind mitigation assistance and/or potential insurance discounts.

Last month, the Mississippi Insurance Department’s (MID’s) efforts to establish a Wind Mitigation Program got a real, seven-digit shot in the arm. Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney announced that the department had been awarded a $1-million grant from the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) and the Governor’s Office.

The grant will be used to fund a hurricane home mitigation study that Chaney said would pave the way for $25-million in hurricane home mitigation assistance for Gulf Coast homeowners.

“The key to recovery on the Mississippi Gulf Coast is jobs,” he said. “Without jobs, we don’t have people, and without people, we don’t have homes, and without homes, we don’t have an economy. The Coast must build to codes, have proper land use and mitigate homes to withstand hurricanes. This grant is the first step.”

Chaney credited Gov. Haley Barbour, Rep. Michael Janus (R-Biloxi) and the Gulf Coast legislative delegation for their assistance in helping MID obtain the grant.

The study is expected to have many benefits. For one, it would give leaders a clear cost-to-benefit analysis. As important, the wind mitigation study would allow for systematic improvements in the hurricane resistance of buildings in the six counties on the Mississippi Gulf Coast (Hancock, Harrison, Jackson, Stone, Pearl River and George) by utilizing wind-resistant construction techniques to reduce property damage and/or loss.

This would result in a significant reduction in insurance premiums, as well as reduce the negative economic impact of a hurricane on the entire state and its citizens, the MID said.
Other benefits from the study, according to the MID, would be:

Establishment of the most appropriate wind hazard mitigation construction measures for new construction and retrofitting existing facilities, both residential and commercial, in the wind-borne debris regions of the state as defined by the International Building Code.

Performance of modeling on a variety of residential and commercial designs, allowing for broad representative spectrum of data.

Preparation of a report establishing tables showing appropriate levels of wind insurance discounts fro each mitigation construction technique or combination of techniques.

Development and collection of data that will enhance the Wind Mitigation Program, such as studies to reflect property value increases for retrofitting or building to the established wind hazard mitigation construction techniques and cost-comparison data to establish the value of the Wind Mitigation Program against the cost to include the mitigation measures.

Provide a scope of work that defines all necessary tasks for accomplishing the goals and requirements of the Wind Mitigation Program.

The MID is currently conducting its request for proposals (RFP) process. The criteria for selection is exacting, which the MID believes is critical to ensure the data are accurate and comprehensive. The RFP deadline is Feb. 12.

While the state looks to hammer out a Wind Mitigation Program, one insurer has already launched homeowner’s insurance discounts available to those who build storm-resistant structures.

Last October. Nationwide Insurance, through a Wind Mitigation Discount Program approved by Chaney, introduced a premium credit to qualified coastal residents that could add up to as much as a 35 percent savings. This program provides differing levels of discounts to customers based on home construction features, including roof type, window protection and secondary water resistance.

Chaney said, “Programs of this type are essential for the continued recovery of the Coast. Stronger building codes, adhering to flood elevations and proper land use are the foundations of bringing affordable, available and accountable insurance back to the Coast. All three can help protect the consumer from major damage during the next disaster. By building or refitting to stronger, fortified standards a homeowner can help reduce the amount of damage done to their home in a storm and now it will, in the long run, save them money on their insurance premiums.”

Only policyholders living in coastal counties are eligible to apply for the credits provided in the Nationwide program, which is scheduled to go into effect this April. The program applies to qualifying new and renewed policies with Nationwide wind coverage.

Customers who qualify under this program are still eligible to qualify for other premium credits Nationwide offers throughout the state. Through this program, a policyholder can stack other Nationwide discounts and, in a true best-case scenario, could receive as much as a 70 percent credit on homeowner premiums.

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at wally.northway@msbusiness.com.

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