Manage the Damage: Ensuring Structural Resilience

Planning for a natural disaster is a constant process. Although no disaster plan is ever perfect, localities that regularly review and update policies and procedures, staffing and stakeholders’ roles, and funding options are better able to manage the response and recovery effort when a disaster does strike.

One of the key components to any city’s disaster planning should be ensuring the structural resilience throughout the community. This includes everything from updating older buildings to making sure that new buildings meet the current codes and standards. Building codes set the baseline for the safe design and construction of our homes, schools, and workplaces, providing the minimum requirements to adequately safeguard the safety, health, and welfare of building occupants. The implementation and enforcement of building codes plays a crucial role in disaster risk reduction.

Previously, design and safety standards were set with primary regard to life safety within an individual structure. For example, buildings codes could assure that buildings were designed so that occupants could evacuate safely from a building, but they did not guarantee that the building itself would be inhabitable after extreme events. Recently, changes to codes and standards have been incorporated to minimize property damage and to ensure the buildings’ structural integrity. This can be found in the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Strategy. It states, “Using disaster-resistant local building codes is the most effective method to ensure new and rebuilt structures are designed and constructed to a more resilient standard.”

In 2016, the Obama Administration addressed recent resilience policies by stating that the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Department of Agriculture had committed to review their existing building construction requirements with the goal to align with the most recent building codes and standards for resilient construction. These are significant steps that will help ensure that new construction is built to last.

Meeting Your Community’s Needs

Building resilience can mean different things to different communities. For instance, areas that are more prone to winter storms may place a higher importance on insulation and protection against high wind speeds, whereas a low-lying community near the shore should focus more of their efforts on water retention methods. Due to these varying requirements, it is important that buildings are not simply built to the minimum legally acceptable level of construction but rather built with the ability to bounce back after a disaster and your community’s unique needs in mind.

Hope for the Best, Plan for the Worst

The public tends to view natural disasters as rare occurrences, however, recent extreme weather events show that there are new significant challenges for the built environment. Because of this, considering historical risk alone is not enough when evaluating building codes. Over the typical life of a structure, many events can occur.

Community leaders and code officials must give thought to the local consequences of major natural disasters like flooding, fire, hurricanes, tornados, hail, blizzards, and earthquakes. A municipality with codes based on a thorough understanding of the effects of natural disasters will be better prepared should a major event occur.

In conclusion, IBTS urges communities to look beyond the building code minimums and to adopt codes and standards that better promote resilience.