All posts by Jared Blum

The New Reality for Federal Disaster Response

“FEMA is no longer looking at itself as just a response agency but a true resilience agency.”

- Gina McCarthy, White House National Climate Advisor

“The field of emergency management is at a pivotal moment. We are seeing tremendous change in the landscape of risk and in our professional roles.”

- FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell, FEMA Strategic Plan for 2022-2026

These two statements by Biden Administration officials on the country's resilience reflect the new reality of where the federal government hopes to take national emergency management efforts. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) can no longer be an agency that just responds after a disaster. With increasing severity and frequency of extreme weather events due to climate change, FEMA must now embrace a new role as a risk management entity and expand its focus from response to pre-mitigation of disasters yet to occur.

This focus on anticipating and preventing future hazards does not come in a vacuum. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has found that the rising number of natural disasters and increasing reliance on the federal government for response and recovery assistance is a key source of federal fiscal exposure. To further build out this context:

  • Since 1980, the federal government has accrued a $1 trillion expense budget for follow-up disaster assistance to states and localities.
  • In 2020 alone, FEMA distributed over $3.5 billion to over 57 communities that had been declared disaster areas.
  • The Washington Post recently reported that more than 4 out of 10 Americans live in a county that was struck by climate-related extreme weather in the past year.

A New Plan for Preparedness

FEMA’s 2022-2026 Strategic Plan reflects this current context and sets three objectives for this new approach for the agency:

  • Instill equity as the foundation of emergency management.
  • Leading whole of community in climate resilience.
  • Ensure a ready FEMA and a prepared nation.

Strengthening the human, technical and financial capability to respond

I believe that these are objectives that the BCSE and its members, as well as others in the private sector and stakeholder community who are committed to climate action, can endorse. Business has a key role through public-private partnership to help FEMA achieve these goals.

We know that our communities are affected differently by natural disasters because of the varying degrees of the resilience of infrastructure, and the human, technical and financial capability to respond. After Hurricanes Maria and Irma pounded Puerto Rico in September 2017, human suffering was exacerbated by ill-prepared infrastructure, which prolonged economic recovery. In both pre- and post-disaster response, the federal government and FEMA has a clear and important role to ensure equity in access to emergency management support and response.

A diverse portfolio of clean energy solutions to protect essential infrastructure

I share the BCSE’s view that the deployment of renewable energy and energy efficiency products and services is an investment with dual benefits for a community – one that reduces harmful emissions and enhances resilience and preparedness. A diverse portfolio of clean energy solutions will help protect essential community infrastructure including the power grid, hospitals, shelters, transportation, and food distribution systems, in the face of a natural disaster.

The Disaster Recovery and Reform Act of 2018 (P.L. 115-24) embraced an innovative approach to pre-disaster mitigation (PDM), which allows the President to set aside up to 6% of an amount appropriated after a national disaster to be used for PDM in the states and territories. FEMA’s latest program,  Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC), provides an additional one billion dollars to states and territories for pre-disaster investments. In 2021, Congress also included increased funding for pre-disaster mitigation (PDM) in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (P.L. 117-58).

This new approach to pre-disaster management is supported by a broad array of businesses, as well as local government, emergency management, healthcare, and real estate stakeholders. For example, many BCSE members support the BRIC program’s proposed criteria for state and local assistance under the new PDM program to be weighted toward communities that have adopted more stringent, recently developed building codes. This reflects FEMA’s emphasis on disaster resilience through strong building codes.

So, three cheers for FEMA!

The agency’s new strategic plan, coupled with the implementation of the BRIC and PDM program, are a shining public policy star in this country’s climate adaptation efforts.

About the Author:
Jared Blum, is Washington Counsel for the EPDM Roofing Association and Vice-Chair of the BCSE Board of Directors.

 

Increased BRIC funding allows communities to invest for the future

When President Biden unveiled his infrastructure plan in late March, the proposed $2 trillion price tag provided firm evidence that this Administration is serious about not only repairing the built environment, but also creating a modern foundation for 21st century progress.

BRIC funding is set aside based on appropriations from disaster declarations. Image from FEMA presentation delivered May 4, 2020.

While the “American Jobs Plan” is being modified by Republican counteroffers on Capitol Hill, where much of the action is taking place behind closed doors, the administration took a very public and encouraging step to jump-start infrastructure investment. Specifically, the President announced a doubling of funding from last year for the BRIC (or Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities) program, designed to give state and local governments funding to prepare for natural disasters.

There are a few important things to note about this announcement.

First, while doubling any budget that will help spur economic activity, especially in the construction industry, is good news, going from $500 million to $1 billion pales in comparison to the Administration’s $2 trillion-dollar request for broadly defined infrastructure work. But it is an important start.

Summary of 2020 BRIC program applications, from the FEMA website, June 4, 2021

Second, because these funds are distributed through a FEMA program, it sends an important message about the importance of pre-disaster mitigation activities – spending millions to prepare for cataclysmic events, rather than allocating government funds to help only in the wake of disastrous destruction. As the President said when he announced the increased funding, he will “insist on nothing less than readiness,” an acknowledgement of the ongoing economic impact of climate change and the need to retrofit the infrastructure – buildings, transport and electric grid – in order to withstand these threats. Existing research by the National Institute of Building Sciences shows that one dollar invested in resilient design in pre-disaster mitigation effectively avoids $11 in after-disaster costs.

Finally, where will this money go and who is likely to spend it? A look at last year’s applications for BRIC funding provides important clues. With $500 million available, FEMA received applications for $3.6 billion from every state in the country. While flood control applications were the most prevalent, utility and infrastructure protection was second in line, followed by building retrofit activity. As with last year, applications this year must be submitted by states, territories and tribal governments, but homeowners, business operators and non-profit organizations can be included on a subapplications. For last year’s funding cycle, the applications were accepted between September of 2020 and January 2021.  While the dates when FEMA will accept applications for this year’s expanded funding have not yet been announced, they will most likely mirror last year.

So, the Biden Administration has delivered a strong signal that funding will be available through multiple channels for infrastructure projects. More importantly, much of that funding can be used to prepare for natural disasters, allowing state governments and businesses time to plan for the future, rather than being forced to spend limited resources restoring what failed to work in the past.

About the author: Jared Blum is Washington Counsel for the EPDM Roofing Association and Vice-Chair of the BCSE Board of Directors. 

The Building Industry Must Focus More on Resilience

Over the past 15 years, the construction industry has made great progress in improving its products and installation practices to create high-performing, 21st century buildings. Whether it’s through greater integrated design practices, roofing technology advancements, certification programs like LEED or science-based performance code requirements, building product manufacturers and contractors can take great pride in this century’s built environment.

But indeed, the industry’s greatest challenge lies ahead—responding to extreme climatic disasters that threaten our very existence.

While there may be debate about the cause, global statistics confirm the increasing frequency of more extreme weather: intense tornado outbreaks, record-setting heat, catastrophic wildfires, heavy downpours, longer droughts and more destructive hurricanes. Indeed, the United States saw $317 billion in damage due to natural causes in 2017 alone, a record amount.

Historically, governmental response has been predictable—funding what is in need of repair—but woeful in expanding predisaster efforts. Fortunately, that is now changing, as FEMA has begun a strategic pre-disaster mitigation planning process in its National Mitigation Investment Strategy, released in early 2018.

In that plan, the agency seeks to catalyze private and nonprofit sector mitigation investments, improve collaboration between federal government and state and local governments and ensure data and risk-informed decisions that include lifetime costs and risks. In addition, in 2018 Congress passed the Disaster Recovery Reform Act, providing for predisaster mitigation funding for communities and indicating that the philosophy within government on disaster planning is gradually changing.

Many areas within the building sector are recognizing the need for manufacturers and contractors to work together to create a more resilient built environment. Of course, the issue of the economics of resilient construction is critical to these groups and building owners as well. This issue is bring addressed, as the recent report issued by the National Institute of Building Sciences demonstrates. This national report, which is a third iteration of prior analyses of this data, demonstrates an 11-to-1 payback for predisaster mitigation investments that include compliance with 2018 version of the ICC.

The promotion of resilient design and construction is now a high priority for leaders in the building industry. For example, through USGBC, the RELi resilience rating system is rising as the new leadership benchmark for resilient buildings and neighborhoods. RELi focuses on resilience by requiring assessment and planning for acute hazards, preparedness to mitigate against them, and designing and constructing for passive survivability. USGBC also provides myriad resources and links about resilience on its Center for Resiliencepage.

In addition, USGBC and over 40 construction and design industries have formed a “one voice” effort in creating an industry statement on the need for additional resilience efforts in our sector. To this end, ICC and ASHRAE have both developed significant working groups to focus on creating resilient communities. The insurance industry, through IBHS, has now developed a Fortified Commercial Building standard, which they are promoting nationwide. Building product manufacturers like the EPDM Roofing Association, which recently issued its report Building Resilience: the Roofing Perspective, have recognized their critical role in moving toward a more resilient built environment.

Sustainability and resilience are two sides of the same coin. While sustainable design and construction seek to protect the environment from damage from building construction and operation, resilience seeks to protect the building and its operation from the environment. Clearly, USGBC and those of us in the building industry have a joint obligation to see to it that the coin is minted with both sides adequately addressed.

About the Author: Jared Blum is a BCSE Board Member and President of the EPDM Roofing Association. 

Note: This blog post was originally published February 26, 2019 on the US Green Building Council Blog.
 

Senator McCain’s Early Climate Leadership Brought Lasting Results

Amidst the numerous laudatory eulogies and public statements being written about the life and career of Senator John McCain, it is easy to downplay his lasting impact on the climate change issue. Indeed, some dispute this impact, claiming he eventually abandoned support for a “cap and trade” solution to CO2 emissions and did not make climate change a top policy priority during his 2008 presidential campaign.

But as a Republican who reached across the aisle to his colleague Senator Lieberman and others to become a lead sponsor of the first major bipartisan Senate legislation to confront the global warming issue, he established a benchmark for prescience on this topic that none of his Republican Senate colleagues are able to match today. In addition, as those of us who worked on public policy dealing with renewable energy, energy efficiency and CO2 reduction were seeking to make the business case for pursuing those goals as a national priority, Senator McCain’s initiatives through hearings, proposed legislation and public commentary gave a credible underpinning for mainstream business and policymakers to take another look at this topic. For example, petroleum-based industries, though still opposing any kind of regulatory emission controls, recognized that, with someone of Senator McCain‘s prestige voicing concern about climate change, the issue would not go away. Energy efficiency industries were more prominently recognized for their critical role in reducing CO2 emissions, and those industries began to add that argument to the economic calculations of their products’ benefits. States, even those run by Republican governors, took another look at their own role in reducing CO2 emissions and began upgrading building codes and related regulatory approaches.

Business organizations such as the Business Council for Sustainable Energy became a growing force in educating international and national forums about existing technologies that could aid in CO2 reduction. Other groups, such as the American Chemistry Council, American Gas Association, and National Solid Waste Management Association, started to take a closer look at their own industry's CO2 emissions profile and begin an inventory of methods to reduce that profile.

Many of the topics that EESI views today as critical to understanding the challenge of climate change had their genesis in the 1990s and in the early years of the new century. Whether it’s the increasingly important role of renewable energy in freeing us from fossil fuel constraints and emissions or the significant challenge a disrupted climate poses to national security, the well-attended Congressional briefings that EESI has orchestrated over the last three decades have continued to examine the topics that were a focus of Senator McCain’s concerns about climate change when he chaired the Senate Commerce Committee.

McCain’s efforts to draw attention to this issue have helped carry us to the place we are today: the United States has reduced its energy usage and CO2 emissions while at the same time increasing its economic productivity. As did the Senator, the U.S. national defense establishment understands the threat of climate change. The 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, recently enacted by Congress, calls climate change "a direct threat to the national security of the United States." And so the momentum towards clean, sustainable energy is pushing forward irrespective of the political paralysis caused by uncompromising ideology.

So as we say goodbye and thank you to this great American hero, those of us who continue to fight the climate change battle will remember Senator John McCain's leadership and accomplishments in this war as well.

About the Author: Jared Blum, is a BCSE Board Member and Board Chair, Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI).

Note: This article has been re-posted from the EESI website with the author's permission.

Resilient Building Codes Offer Challenges and Opportunities for Roofing Industry

Resilience is the ability to prepare for and adapt to changing conditions and to withstand and recover rapidly from deliberate attacks, accidents, or naturally occurring threats or incidents.
-- White House Presidential Policy Directive on Critical Infrastructure Security and Resilience

In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina made landfall in the Gulf Coast as a category 3 storm. Insured losses topped $41 billion, the costliest US catastrophe in the history of the industry. Studies following the storm indicated that lax enforcement of building codes had significantly increased the number and severity of claims and structural losses. Researchers at Louisiana State University found that if stronger building codes had been in place, wind damages from Hurricane Katrina would have been reduced by a staggering 80 percent. With one storm, resiliency went from a post-event adjective to a global movement calling for better preparation, response, and recovery—not if, but when the next major disaster strikes.

Challenges of an Aging Infrastructure

We can all agree that the building stock and infrastructure in United States are old and woefully unprepared for climatic events which will occur in the years ahead. Moving forward, engineering has to be more focused on risk management; historical weather patterns don’t matter because the past is no longer a reliable map for future building code requirements. On both a community-wide and a building-specific level, conscientious groups are creating plans to deal with robust weather, climatic events and national security threats through changing codes and standards to improve their capacity to withstand, absorb, and recover from stress.

Improvements to infrastructure resiliency, whether they are called risk management strategies, extreme weather preparedness, or climate change adaptation, can help a region bounce back quickly from the next storm at considerably less cost. Two years ago, leading groups in America’s design and construction industry issued an Industry Statement on Resiliency which stated, “We recognize that natural and manmade hazards pose an increasing threat to the safety of the public and the vitality of our nation. Aging infrastructure and disasters result in unacceptable losses of life and property, straining our nation’s ability to respond in a timely and efficient manner. We further recognize that contemporary planning, building materials, and design, construction and operational techniques can make our communities more resilient to these threats.” With these principles in mind, there has been a coordinated effort to revolutionize building standards to respond to higher demands.

Strengthening Building Standards

Resiliency begins with ensuring that buildings are constructed and renovated in accordance with modern building codes and designed to evolve with change in both the built and natural environment. In addition to protecting the lives of occupants, buildings that are designed for resilience can rapidly recover from a disruptive event, allowing continuity of operations that can literally save lives.

Disasters are expensive to respond to, but much of the destruction can be prevented with cost-effective mitigation features and advanced planning. A 2005 study funded by FEMA and conducted by the National Institute of Building Sciences’ Multi-hazard Mitigation Council found that every dollar spent on mitigation would save four dollars in losses. Improved building code requirements over the past decade have been the single, unifying force in driving high-performing and more resilient building envelopes, especially in states that have taken the initiative to extend these requirements to existing buildings.

Mitigation is Cost-Effective in the Long Term

In California, there is an oft-repeated saying that “earthquakes don’t kill people, buildings do.” Second only to Alaska in frequency of earthquakes and with a much higher population density, California has made seismic code upgrades a priority, even in the face of financial constraints. Last year, Los Angeles passed an ambitious bill requiring 15,000 buildings and homes to be retrofitted to meet modern codes. Without the changes, a major earthquake could seriously damage the city's economic viability: Large swaths of housing could be destroyed, commercial areas could become uninhabitable and the city would face an uphill battle to regain its economic footing. As L.A. City Councilman Gil Cedillo said, "Why are we waiting for an earthquake and then committed to spending billions of dollars, when we can spend millions of dollars before the earthquake, avoid the trauma, avoid the loss of affordable housing, and do so in a preemptive manner that costs us less."

This preemptive strategy has been adopted in response to other threats as well. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Princeton University emerged as a national example of electrical resilience with its “microgrid”—an efficient on-campus power generation and delivery network that draws electricity from a gas-turbine generator and solar panel field. When the New Jersey utility grid went down in the storm, the University served as refuge for police, firefighters, paramedics and other emergency-services workers using Princeton as a staging ground and charging station for phones and equipment and a haven for local residents whose homes lost power. Even absent a major storm, the system provides cost efficiency, reduced environmental impact, and the opportunity to use renewable energy, making the initial investment a smart one.

Roofing Standards Adapt to Meet Demands

Many of today’s sustainable roofing standards were developed in response to severe weather events. Wind design standards across the United States were bolstered after Hurricane Andrew in 1992, with minimum design wind speeds rising by 30+ miles per hour and coastal jurisdictions such as Miami-Dade County going even further with the development of wind-borne debris standards and enhanced uplift design testing. Severe heat waves and brown-outs such as the Chicago Heat Wave of 1995 prompted that city to require “cool roofs”on the city’s buildings.

Hurricane Sandy fostered innovation by demonstrating that when buildings are isolated from the supply of fresh water and electricity, roofs could serve an important role in keeping building occupants safe and secure. Locating power and water sources on rooftops would have maintained emergency lighting and water supplies when storm surges threatened systems located in basement utility areas. Thermally efficient roofs could have helped keep more habitable until heating and cooling plants were put back into service.

In response to these changes, there are many opportunities for industry growth and adaptation. Roof designs must continue to evolve to accommodate the increasing presence of solar panels, small wind turbines, and electrical equipment moved from basements, in addition to increasing snow and water loads on top of buildings. Potential energy disruptions demand greater insulation and window performance to create a habitable interior environment in the critical early hours and days after a climate event. Roofing product manufacturers will work more closely with the contractor community to ensure that roofing installation practices maximize product performance and that products are tested appropriately for insitu behavior.

Averting Future Disasters through Proactive Design

Rather than trying to do the minimum possible to meet requirements, building practitioners are “thinking beyond the code” to design structures built not just to withstand, but to to thrive in extreme circumstances. The Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) has developed an enhanced set of engineering and building standards, called FORTIFIED HOME™, designed to help strengthen new and existing homes through system-specific building upgrades to reduce damage from specific natural hazards. Research on roofing materials is ongoing to find systems rigorous enough to withstand hail, UV radiation, temperature fluctuations, and wind uplift. New techniques to improve roof installation quality and performance will require more training for roofing contractors and more engagement by manufacturers on the installation of their products to optimize value.

Confronted with growing exposure to disruptive events, the building industry is working cooperatively to meet the challenge of designing solutions that provide superior performance in changing circumstances to reduce long-term costs and limit disruptions. Achieving such integration requires active collaboration among building team members to improve the design process and incorporate new materials and technologies, resulting in high-performing structures that are durable, cost- and resource-efficient, and resilient so that when the next disruptive event hits, our buildings and occupants will be ready.

About PIMA

For over 25 years, the Polyisocyanurate Insulation Manufacturers Association (PIMA) has served as the unified voice of the rigid polyiso industry, proactively advocating for safe, cost-effective, sustainable, and energy-efficient construction. PIMA’s members, who first came together in 1987, include a synergistic partnership of polyiso manufacturers and industry suppliers. Polyiso is one of North America’s most widely used and cost-effective insulation products available. To learn more visit www.polyiso.org.

 

Note: This article was originally published in Roofing Magazine, July/August 2016 edition.