I have just seen the future of American construction, and it is located in Richburg, South Carolina.
I was privileged to tour the Research Center of the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS) in Richburg last week and my group was briefed on design initiatives to meet the nation's meteorological challenges like hail, wildfire, and hurricanes.
Founded by property insurance companies and re-insurers, IBHS's mission is to conduct objective scientific research to "identify and promote the most effective ways to strengthen homes, businesses and communities against natural disasters and other causes of loss." The research center in South Carolina is a state-of-the-art facility allowing for testing of full-scale one- and two-story homes and commercial buildings under realistic scenarios.
The importance of this private sector effort to develop disaster-resistant structures cannot be overstated. While some continue to resist the compelling science that demonstrates that humans are impacting the climate, no clear-eyed observer of our environment can claim that the climate is not changing the demands on our built environment.
More than 9,500 Americans have lost their lives in weather-related disasters since 1980, and the reinsurance industry indicates there has been a 10 percent increase in billion-dollar loss events over the last decade. Certainly in the past few years, from Ellicott City, Maryland, to West Virginia, Texas, Florida, and of course Puerto Rico, the United States has been hit by several "once in a hundred years" storms. Such storms now occur more frequently—and with more rain, wind, and hail—than previously thought possible or likely to occur.
So it was with a heightened sense of concern about our ability to adapt to more frequent—and in some cases unprecedented—extreme weather events that I visited IBHS in early October. But I left that Richburg facility with a renewed sense of optimism that this country can innovate and design more resilient buildings to cope with the events to come. As it develops "fortified homes" and "fortified commercial buildings," IBHS is demonstrating the innovative construction approaches that represent the future of building for many regions of this country. The Institute has also developed a rating system, with three levels of designation (Bronze, Silver, and Gold), to help builders and homeowners meet their resilience goals.
Just as environmentally-friendly buildings were bolstered by sustainability standards developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) over a decade ago, resilient and disaster-ready buildings will benefit from IBHS's standards, which are driven by the new reality of a rapidly changing climate. Sustainability and resilience are two sides of the same coin: sustainable construction protects the environment from damage resulting from the building and operating processes, and resilient construction protects the building (and its occupants) from environmental disasters.
It is now up to the regulatory and code bodies in this country to catch up with the technology and installation practices that the private sector, through IBHS, has shown can make us all safer. Through the use of existing materials but with extraordinary attention to how engineering design and quality installation can maximize resilience, the "fortified" approach could very well become the standard in the next few years in many parts of the country.
Author: Jared Blum, EESI Chair