Summary

The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) and the National Association of State Energy Officials (NASEO) held a briefing on the public/private drive toward resilient buildings –– structures that are located, designed and built (or renovated) to withstand extreme weather, cyberterrorism, and other hazards now and for years to come. Federal, state and local governments, working in partnership with standard-setting and private sector organizations, are responding vigorously to the need for increased resilience. Recent events have demonstrated that whether it’s a medical center in Houston, a military base in Florida, or a university in New Jersey, communities rely on public buildings as a shelter of last resort in a disaster.

This briefing explored what makes buildings resilient; why resilience is important for multiple policy challenges, including infrastructure modernization, emergency preparedness, disaster response, and research funding; and how public-private sector collaboration in research, worker training and investment partnerships benefit society now and well into the future.

Highlights

 

EESI Chairman Jared Blum welcomed attendees and speakers and thanked Rep. Peter Welch and his staff for sponsoring the briefing.

 

Mark Fowler, Energy LA, Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT)

  • Rep. Welch co-chairs the Congressional High Performance Building Caucus with Congressman David McKinley (R-WV). Together with building-industry members of the High Performance Building Coalition, the Caucus promotes resiliency and energy efficiency in buildings and policies to ensure a sustainable building sector. Members of Congress are invited to join the Caucus.

 

Debra Ballen, General Counsel and Senior Vice President, Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS)

  • IBHS is a building science group. Buildings are vital for community resilience and our nation’s resilience.
  • IBHS’s focus is on the roof. Roofs are more likely to be damaged by severe weather and falling debris than any other part of the building and to cause more damage if they are compromised.
  • An IBHS video of its wind-tunnel test facility compared the effects of the same simulated storm on a house built to the building code in Bloomington, Illinois, and a house built to the IBHS Fortified standard, which is more stringent than the model building codes that most states use. The IBHS Fortified roof remained in place while the other was ripped completely off, leaving the rest of the house vulnerable to damage. Debra noted that without a roof, a house is a bucket waiting to be filled with water.
  • The severity of the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season was unprecedented and underscored the increasing importance of resilient buildings.
  • Before Hurricane Irma, IBHS conducted a test and discovered that if doors are closed, there is a great improvement in how a building holds up in a storm. However, it takes some time to create an official report, and Hurricane Irma was fast approaching. So IBHS created a social media campaign to demonstrate the importance of keeping doors/windows closed during a storm, which resulted in millions of people making themselves safer and their homes and businesses more resilient.
  • 2017 was also a huge wildfire year, and a lot of the damage took place in areas that had not been deemed high-hazard. This demonstrated that being prepared in advance, even when you think you’re safe, is essential.
  • It is important for individuals and households to increase their own resilience. An individual home or business owner can use stronger building standards than what the state or local code requires.
  • IBHS’s latest report, Rating the States, compares the use of building codes in hurricane-prone areas.
  • FORTIFIED is a set of standards and inspection requirements for both homes and businesses. A building is only as strong as its weakest link, so FORTIFIED takes a systems-based approach. But it does allow for various incremental levels of resilience [The Bronze level focuses on the roof system, Silver adds window and door protections, and Gold adds augmented structural protections].
  • We have to convince people that they should be spending money on making their homes resilient and help them understand the value of a strong roof.
  • The biggest political challenge in building stronger homes is political gridlock, which makes it hard to get anything done, even things people agree on. We are glad to see that the February budget deal included additions to mitigation grants and programmatic changes to incentivize states to do better.

 

The Honorable Reid Ribble, CEO, National Roofing Contractors Association; former Member of Congress (R-WI, 2010 – 2016)

  • Congressman Ribble noted that during Hurricane Katrina, many New Orleans residents sheltered in the Superdome, which was performing well in the storm. However, a high rise hotel nearby had all its windows blown, driving glass shards into the superdome roof, penetrating it and resulting in the roof blowing off.
  • Hurricane Katrina demonstrated that it doesn’t matter how good a roof is if it can’t resist damage from other hurricane damages. All buildings must be resilient.
  • We need to create a stronger roof that can handle serious threats, such as large shards of glass flying at it at high speeds in a storm, so that when a non-resilient building fails, resilient buildings will still be okay.
  • Improving building codes to keep roofs on is essential, and more complicated than just creating a roof that will stay in place. It’s also important to use the proper adhesives and other resilient components that will allow the roof to hold up over time.
  • The biggest challenge is making resilient buildings and roofs economically feasible. We already know how to build buildings that will stay in place, but society is not willing to pay these high costs.
  • People on coasts should build to higher building codes to prevent future costs. Society will have to pay the cost if appropriate mitigation steps are not taken now.
  • In the United States, people are mobile and often move to different states, so they are not as willing to invest in resilience. In other places, like Europe, houses get passed down from generation to generation, so there is a higher value placed on long-term maintenance and resilience.
  • The people most responsible for the quality of construction are workers who are actually installing the roofs. We are 20,000 workers short in the roofing industry and 300,000 workers short in the construction industry. These are high-paying, risky, technical jobs, and we need to encourage young people to consider and pursue construction work and for society to value this work.

 

Paul Totten, PE, LEED AP, Vice President/National Practice Leader – Building Enclosures, WSP USA (Engineering and Design)

  • Each building has a different purpose and each can be used differently in the case of a disaster.
  • Buildings currently are not built for the future. By the time a new building standard is passed, it is already outdated based on the rate of climate change.
  • The basic requirement of a building is to provide shelter, but that’s not what we think of instinctively. Buildings should be built for resilience so they can be used as shelters in emergencies. Although the daily user experience is important, aesthetics is not as important as safety in times of disaster.
  • “Future proofing” is vital: we should build a 2030 building rather than a 2000 building, especially as storms become more frequent and severe.
  • Our country cannot handle two natural disasters in a row; even recovering from one event has been difficult.
  • There are simple tools that can be used to analyze climate variation throughout the states, but not enough people are trained in how to use this software.
  • We need to determine how to make buildings responsive to climate as it changes.
  • People are central. People design, construct, maintain, and occupy buildings. They need to know what to do in a disaster, and if their building will hold up.
  • Currently, there is not enough focus on resilience in commercial buildings, which needs to change. In addition, there is a lack of funding to implement resilient building design guides.
  • Rebuilding takes time, and the emotional and psychological impacts are huge and long-lasting, so it is worth it to be ready before disaster strikes.
  • People need proper training and education to build resilient buildings for the future.

 

Jeremy Marcus, Deputy Chief of Staff and Legislative Director, Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-PA)

  • The PREPARE Act is a bipartisan bill that helps prepare us for the increased prevalence of extreme weather.
  • First, it would establish an interagency council that would decide the best practices for preparedness, ensure agencies are doing their work, and have a coordinating body for the federal government to look at extreme weather preparedness.
  • Second, it would make sure each agency has its own extreme weather plans and look at how each agency is working to fulfill its mission.
  • Third, it would coordinate regional responses so that all agencies in a region can work together to prepare for extreme weather events.
  • Jeremy encouraged organizations and Congressional offices to support the PREPARE Act.

 

The United States has some of the best buildings in the world and a construction industry that produces advanced technologies and materials. What are the impediments to their use and how can government facilitate their deployment by our highly trained architects, engineers and builders? The vast majority of the U.S. built environment was not designed to withstand the extreme weather, power outages and other hazards that are becoming more frequent,  destructive, and disproportionately burdensome on the elderly and low income communities. The panel of experts helped attendees gain a better understanding of what is achievable with existing technologies and what types of policies and research and development are needed to enhance this important part of the nation’s infrastructure.

 

This briefing was the sixth in a series on "Building Resilient and Secure Infrastructure."