BY DENA SILVERI

Another hurricane season is here. If we've learned anything from significant weather events from the past 10 years, it's that we can't afford to repair and rebuild in hurricane-prone areas using the same building methods.

From Maine to Texas, our coastal communities are at risk from severe tropical storms that bring damaging high winds, rains and storm surges. Although the scars from past storms still linger, going forward, we believe the related rebuilding costs can be mitigated.

As a regional vice president for Nationwide Insurance, I strongly believe our industry's responsibility goes further than putting a new roof on a building or helping customers repair or rebuild after a storm.

Insurance companies should do what we can to help consumers prevent damage in the first place. Nationwide believes the best kind of claim is one that never happens.

No one can control Mother Nature, but we can control how we build and repair homes and businesses. Insurance companies can play a role in educating the public about how they can help reduce or prevent damage caused by severe weather.

Experts at the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS) tell us that people can spend a relatively small amount of money to help protect the things most important to them, like their homes, businesses, loved ones, co-workers and valuable possessions. IBHS FORTIFIED construction standards are proven to reduce deaths, injuries, property damage, economic losses and human suffering caused by disasters.

We know there is a need to change how we build on the coasts to make it safer to live and own a business in these areas. We cannot continue building there the same way and expect hard-working Americans to remain after a storm destroys everything they have worked so hard for, let alone expect the insurance market to remain stable.

Stronger building materials and advanced construction techniques increase a structure's chances of surviving a storm. With these improved techniques and resources, homeowners and business owners may be more likely to return to or rebuild in areas that have been previously devastated by extreme weather.

For changes to gain real traction, we need to motivate property owners and builders to make their structures stronger by offering financial incentives to embrace safer, stronger building standards. Incentives such as building permit rebates, state-level tax incentives, and state and federal grant funds can help offset retrofitting and building costs. In South Carolina, the Department of Insurance administers a Safe Home program, through which it provides grant money to individual home owners to make their homes more resistant to high winds and hurricanes.

We think it is a good idea for federal, state and local officials to create even more incentives for consumers, homebuilders and contractors to build or retrofit homes and businesses to IBHS' FORTIFIED standards. Implementing these standards will help buildings better stand up to severe weather events that threaten much of the country today.

Stronger buildings may increase insurance companies' ability to return to these regions, which would create more insurance availability for home and business owners. More availability would lead to lower premiums, which may entice even more homeowners and businesses to remain on or return to our coasts.

Post-storm recovery efforts can require a significant allocation of federal and state funds. Providing these fortification incentives before a storm hits could result in dramatic savings to our government and ultimately, to taxpayers.

While government-backed incentives are critical, insurance companies must do their part to encourage consumers to fortify homes and businesses by providing incentives of their own.

Insurance companies can offer discounts to consumers and business owners who fortify their structures. They also can offer insurance products that rebuild storm-damaged homes and businesses to FORTIFIED standards. Through our partnership with IBHS, Nationwide Insurance offers a Fortified for Safer Living discount in South Carolina, which gives various levels of premium savings to members who have new or retro-fit homes with proof that they meet IBHS' Fortified Home Designation standards and all other minimum eligibility underwriting criteria.

We can't change every home now, but we can begin taking steps. By planning and preparing today, we can help limit some of the inconveniences and losses caused by a storm and help property owners recover more quickly.

It's time to learn from Mother Nature's lessons and take action to make our homes and businesses stronger.

Dena Silveri is a regional vice president of Nationwide Insurance.