Appendix C: Benefit Cost Analysis

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Benefit/cost analysis is a key mechanism used by the state Office of Emergency Services (OES), the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and other state and federal agencies in evaluating hazard mitigation projects, and is required by the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, Public Law 93-288, as amended.

This appendix outlines several approaches for conducting economic analysis of natural hazard mitigation projects. It describes the importance of implementing mitigation activities, different approaches to economic analysis of mitigation strategies, and methods to calculate costs and benefits associated with mitigation strategies. Information in this section is derived in part from: The Interagency Hazards Mitigation Team, State Hazard Mitigation Plan, (Oregon State Police - Office of Emergency Management, 2000), and Federal Emergency Management Agency Publication 331, Report on Costs and Benefits of Natural Hazard Mitigation.

This section is not intended to provide a comprehensive description of benefit/cost analysis, nor is it intended to provide the details of economic analysis methods that can be used to evaluate local projects. It is intended to (1) raise benefit/cost analysis as an important issue, and (2) provide some background on how economic analysis can be used to evaluate mitigation projects.

Why Evaluate Mitigation Strategies?

Mitigation activities reduce the cost of disasters by minimizing property damage, injuries, and the potential for loss of life, and by reducing emergency response costs, which would otherwise be incurred.

Evaluating natural hazard mitigation provides decision-makers with an understanding of the potential benefits and costs of an activity, as well as a basis upon which to compare alternative projects. Evaluating mitigation projects is a complex and difficult undertaking, which is influenced by many variables. First, natural disasters affect all segments of the communities they strike, including individuals, businesses, and public services such as fire, police, utilities, and schools.

Second, while some of the direct and indirect costs of disaster damages are measurable, some of the costs are non-financial and difficult to quantify in dollars. Third, many of the impacts of such events produce "ripple-effects" throughout the community, greatly increasing the disaster's social and economic consequences.

While not easily accomplished, there is value, from a public policy perspective, in assessing the positive and negative impacts from mitigation activities, and obtaining an instructive benefit/cost comparison. Otherwise, the decision to pursue or not pursue various mitigation options would not be based on an objective understanding of the net benefit or loss associated with these actions.

What are Some Economic Analysis Approaches for Mitigation Strategies?

The approaches used to identify the costs and benefits associated with natural hazard mitigation strategies, measures, or projects fall into two general categories: benefit/cost analysis and cost-effectiveness analysis. The distinction between the two methods is the way in which the relative costs and benefits are measured. Additionally, there are varying approaches to assessing the value of mitigation for public sector and private sector activities.

Benefit/Cost Analysis

Benefit/cost analysis is used in natural hazards mitigation to show if the benefits to life and property protected through mitigation efforts exceed the cost of the mitigation activity. Conducting benefit/cost analysis for a mitigation activity can assist communities in determining whether a project is worth undertaking now, in order to avoid disaster related damages later. Benefit/cost analysis is based on calculating the frequency and severity of a hazard, avoided future damages, and risk.

In benefit/cost analysis, all costs and benefits are evaluated in terms of dollars, and a net benefit/cost ratio is computed to determine whether a project should be implemented (i.e., if net benefits exceed net costs, the project is worth pursuing). A project must have a benefit/cost ratio greater than 1 in order to be funded.

Cost-Effectiveness Analysis

Cost-effectiveness analysis evaluates how best to spend a given amount of money to achieve a specific goal. This type of analysis, however, does not necessarily measure costs and benefits in terms of dollars. Determining the economic feasibility of mitigating natural hazards can also be organized according to the perspective of those with an economic interest in the outcome. Hence, economic analysis approaches are covered for both public and private sectors as follows.

Investing in public sector mitigation activities Evaluating mitigation strategies in the public sector is complicated because it involves estimating all of the economic benefits and costs regardless of who realizes them, and potentially to a large number of people and economic entities. Some benefits cannot be evaluated monetarily, but still affect the public in profound ways. Economists have developed methods to evaluate the economic feasibility of public decisions that involve a diverse set of beneficiaries and nonmarket benefits.

Investing in private sector mitigation activities
Private sector mitigation projects may occur on the basis of one of two approaches: it may be mandated by a regulation or standard, or it may be economically justified on its own merits. A building or landowner, whether a private entity or a public agency, required to conform to a mandated standard may consider the following options:
  1. Request cost sharing from public agencies;
  2. Dispose of the building or land either by sale or demolition;
  3. Change the designated use of the building or land and change the hazard mitigation compliance requirement; or
  4. Evaluate the most feasible alternatives and initiate the most cost effective hazard mitigation alternative.
Estimating the costs and benefits of a hazard mitigation strategy can be a complex process.
Employing the services of a specialist can assist in this process.

The sale of a building or land triggers another set of concerns. For example, real estate disclosure laws can be developed which require sellers of real property to disclose known defects and deficiencies in the property, including earthquake weaknesses and hazards to prospective purchasers. Correcting deficiencies can be expensive and time consuming, but their existence can prevent the sale of the building. Conditions of a sale regarding the deficiencies and the price of the building can be negotiated between a buyer and seller.

How can an Economic Analysis be Conducted?

Benefit/cost analysis and cost-effectiveness analysis are important tools in evaluating whether or not to implement a mitigation activity. A framework for evaluating alternative mitigation activities is outlined below:

  1. Identify the Alternatives: Alternatives for reducing risk from natural hazards can include structural projects to enhance disaster resistance, education and outreach, and acquisition or demolition of exposed properties, among others. Different mitigation projects can assist in minimizing risk to natural hazards, but do so at varying economic costs.
  2. Calculate the Costs and Benefits: Choosing economic criteria is essential to systematically calculating costs and benefits of mitigation projects and selecting the most appropriate alternative. Potential economic criteria to evaluate alternatives include:
    • Determine the project cost. This may include initial project development costs, and repair and operating costs of maintaining projects over time.
    • Estimate the benefits. Projecting the benefits, or cash flow resulting from a project can be difficult. Expected future returns from the mitigation effort depend on the correct specification of the risk and the effectiveness of the project, which may not be well known. Expected future costs depend on the physical durability and potential economic obsolescence of the investment. This is difficult to project. These considerations will also provide guidance in selecting an appropriate salvage value. Future tax structures and rates must be projected. Financing alternatives must be researched, and they may include retained earnings, bond and stock issues, and commercial loans.
    • Consider costs and benefits to society and the environment. These are not easily measured, but can be assessed through a variety of economic tools including existence value or contingent value theories. These theories provide quantitative data on the value people attribute to physical or social environments. Even without hard data, however, impacts of structural projects to the physical environment or to society should be considered when implementing mitigation projects.Determine the correct discount rate. Determination of the discount rate can just be the risk-free cost of capital, but it may include the decision maker's time preference and also a risk premium. Including inflation should also be considered.
  3. Analyze and Rank the Alternatives: Once costs and benefits have been quantified, economic analysis tools can rank the alternatives. Two methods for determining the best alternative given varying costs and benefits include net present value and internal rate of return.
    • Net present value. Net present value is the value of the expected future returns of an investment minus the value of expected future cost expressed in today's dollars. If the net present value is greater than the project costs, the project may be determined feasible for implementation. Selecting the discount rate, and identifying the present and future costs and benefits of the project calculates the net present value of projects.
    • Internal Rate of Return. Using the internal rate of return method to evaluate mitigation projects provides the interest rate equivalent to the dollar returns expected from the project. Once the rate has been calculated, it can be compared to rates earned by investing in alternative projects. Projects may be feasible to implement when the internal rate of return is greater than the total costs of the project.

    Once the mitigation projects are ranked on the basis of economic criteria, decision-makers can consider other factors, such as risk; project effectiveness; and economic, environmental, and social returns in choosing the appropriate project for implementation.

How are Benefits of Mitigation Calculated?

Economic Returns of Natural Hazard Mitigation

The estimation of economic returns, which accrue to building or land owner as a result of natural hazard mitigation, is difficult. Owners evaluating the economic feasibility of mitigation should consider reductions in physical damages and financial losses. A partial list follows:
  • Building damages avoided
  • Content damages avoided
  • Inventory damages avoided
  • Rental income losses avoided
  • Relocation and disruption expenses avoided
  • Proprietor's income losses avoided
These parameters can be estimated using observed prices, costs, and engineering data. The difficult part is to correctly determine the effectiveness of the hazard mitigation project and the resulting reduction in damages and losses. Equally as difficult is assessing the probability that an event will occur. The damages and losses should only include those that will be borne by the owner. The salvage value of the investment can be important in determining economic feasibility. Salvage value becomes more important as the time horizon of the owner declines. This is important because most businesses depreciate assets over a period of time.

Additional Costs from Natural Hazards

Property owners should also assess changes in a broader set of factors that can change as a result of a large natural disaster. These are usually termed "indirect" effects, but they can have a very direct effect on the economic value of the owner's building or land. They can be positive or negative, and include changes in the following:
  • Commodity and resource prices
  • Availability of resource supplies
  • Commodity and resource demand changes
  • Building and land values
  • Capital availability and interest rates
  • Availability of labor
  • Economic structure
  • Infrastructure
  • Regional exports and imports
  • Local, state, and national regulations and policies
  • Insurance availability and rates
Changes in the resources and industries listed above are more difficult to estimate and require models that are structured to estimate total economic impacts. Total economic impacts are the sum of direct and indirect economic impacts. Total economic impact models are usually not combined with economic feasibility models. Many models exist to estimate total economic impacts of changes in an economy. Decision makers should understand the total economic impacts of natural disasters in order to calculate the benefits of a mitigation activity. This suggests that understanding the local economy is an important first step in being able to understand the potential impacts of a disaster, and the benefits of mitigation activities.

Additional Considerations

Conducting an economic analysis for potential mitigation activities can assist decision-makers in choosing the most appropriate strategy for their community to reduce risk and prevent loss from natural hazards. Economic analysis can also save time and resources from being spent on inappropriate or unfeasible projects. Several resources and models are listed on the following page that can assist in conducting an economic analysis for natural hazard mitigation activities.

Benefit/cost analysis is complicated, and the numbers may divert attention from other important issues. It is important to consider the qualitative factors of a project associated with mitigation that cannot be evaluated economically. There are alternative approaches to implementing mitigation projects. Many communities are looking towards developing multi-objective projects. With this in mind, opportunity rises to develop strategies that integrate natural hazard mitigation with projects related to watersheds, environmental planning, community economic development, and small business development, among others. Incorporating natural hazard mitigation with other community projects can increase the viability of project implementation.


CUREe Kajima Project, Methodologies For Evaluating The Socio-Economic Consequences Of Large Earthquakes, Task 7.2 Economic Impact Analysis, Prepared by University of California, Berkeley Team, Robert A. Olson, VSP Associates, Team Leader; John M. Eidinger, G&E Engineering Systems; Kenneth A. Goettel, Goettel and Associates Inc.; and Gerald L. Horner, Hazard Mitigation Economics Inc., 1997.

Federal Emergency Management Agency, Benefit/Cost Analysis of Hazard Mitigation Projects, Riverine Flood, Version 1.05, Hazard Mitigation Economics Inc., 1996.

Federal Emergency Management Agency Report on Costs and Benefits of Natural Hazard Mitigation. Publication 331, 1996.

Goettel & Horner Inc., Earthquake Risk Analysis Volume III: The Economic Feasibility of Seismic Rehabilitation of Buildings in The City of Portland, Submitted to the Bureau of Buildings, City of Portland, August 30, 1995.

Goettel & Horner Inc., Benefit/Cost Analysis of Hazard Mitigation Projects Volume V, Earthquakes, Prepared for FEMA's Hazard Mitigation Branch, October 25, 1995.

Horner, Gerald, Benefit/Cost Methodologies for Use in Evaluating the Cost Effectiveness of Proposed Hazard Mitigation Measures, Robert Olson Associates, Prepared for Oregon State Police, Office of Emergency Management, July 1999.

Interagency Hazards Mitigation Team, State Hazard Mitigation Plan, (Oregon State Police - Office of Emergency Management, 2000).

Risk Management Solutions, Inc., Development of a Standardized Earthquake Loss Estimation Methodology, National Institute of Building Sciences, Volume I and II, 1994.

VSP Associates, Inc., A Benefit/Cost Model for the Seismic Rehabilitation of Buildings, Volumes 1 & 2, Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, Publication Numbers 227 and 228, 1991.

VSP Associates, Inc., Benefit/Cost Analysis of Hazard Mitigation Projects: Section 404 Hazard Mitigation Program and Section 406 Public Assistance Program, Volume 3: Seismic Hazard Mitigation Projects, 1993.

VSP Associates, Inc., Seismic Rehabilitation of Federal Buildings: A Benefit/Cost Model, Volume 1, Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, Publication Number 255, 1994.


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