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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.