Some states require local governments to consider potential disasters as part of land-use planning efforts. University of North Carolina researchers found such requirements lead to lower insured losses in those communities.

But, Tierney says, "The actual situation in most states and communities right now is that land-use planners and planning departments don't talk much to emergency management departments or experts in disaster-loss reduction. Even if they did there may not be political will in a lot of communities to put these measures in place."

Building a better house

Improvements in building materials and methods help lower losses, says Timothy Reinhold, senior vice president of research and chief engineer of the Insurance Institute of Business and Home Safety. The institute has designed buildings that can withstand most tornadoes. The roofing industry has developed impact-resistant shingles that hold up in most hailstorms.

But how do you get people to invest in beefing up their homes? One way is through tougher building codes. Another is to persuade people with incentives and education about safety.

"In the current marketplace, I'm a little pessimistic in how much change we're going to see in building codes and voluntary construction," Reinhold says.

Says Tierney: "These are really complex economic and political problems that can't be solved by government alone or by the private sector alone. There has to be a strong partnership for how do we provide incentives for adopting, implementing, monitoring and maintaining solutions that work. It's not that we don't know what to do. It is how we will do it."

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