Infrastructure protectionSandy shows need for more effective preparedness, resiliency standards

Published 20 August 2013

The rebuilding efforts following the devastation wreaked by Superstorm Sandy have triggered a discussion over preparedness and resiliency in America’s commercial and residential buildings.Some experts callfor a presidential appointment of a building resilience “’czar”’ with authority to coordinate and seek synergies between public and private sector initiatives.

The rebuilding efforts following the devastation wreaked by Superstorm Sandy have triggered a discussion over preparedness and resiliency in America’s commercial and residential buildings. Communities in areas affected by Sandy have been developing ways better to withstand the next hurricane. Communities, each with its own set of standards for building resiliency, are reaching out to state and federal agencies for information, funding, and insight. DHS offers details on building-vulnerability assessment tools. FEMA offers details on federal resilient-building initiatives. Disastersafety.org and postsandyinitiative.org offers plenty of advice from insurers and architects for those affected by Hurricane Sandy.

Engineering News-Record reports that while there are several outlets to turn to for information on building sustainability and resiliency, progress on building resiliency and federal coordination on the topic have been minimal. “The U. S. has been somewhat paralyzed in the development of an effective building-resiliency response by the extreme politicizing of the topic of climate change,” says Ben Sandzer-Bell, chief resilience officer for Climate Adaptation Solutions. “The level of political toxicity prevents effective engagement by a large segment of the American body politic, industry, academia, NGOs and media.”

Sandzer-Bell’s solution is for a presidential appointment of a building resilience “czar” with authority to coordinate and seek synergies between public and private sector initiatives.

Robert Wible, a building regulatory reform consultant, agrees. “We cannot afford to keep reinventing wheels, spending precious public- and private-sector funds and staff time on duplicative and, at times, conflicting actions,” Wible told ENR. “We need someone and someplace to connect the dots.”

Currently, there is no central body to facilitate discussions and set a unified mission between private and public sector initiatives on building resiliency. Not everyone supports the idea of a presidential appointee to supervise or take the role of a resiliency czar. “I am not in favor of making large government even larger,” says Dennis Wessel, senior vice president at Karpinski Engineering and an ASHRAE director.

Others say there is no need for a czar, using the actions of Florida and the Gulf Coast states after 2005 Hurricane Katrina as an example. These states adopted stringent codes, test protocols, and guidelines after Hurricane Katrina. Some, however, question whether the codes adopted by the Gulf Coast states are effective for the future. “Maybe the road followed is not indicative of the road ahead,” says Chris Pyke, the U.S. Green Building Council’s research vice president. For USGBC, resilience is part of sustainability. “We need to be sure we are designing buildings and infrastructure for the plausible experience of the system over its lifetime,” adds Pyke. “This is a standard-of-care issue as much as it is a code issue.”

ENRnotes that resilience ratings are being developed. FEMA has trademarked “Resilience STAR” for resilient products, modeled after the U.S Department of Energy’s Energy STAR program. Federal and state agencies are hosting contests and programs to motivate and reward groups for developing ideas for resilient communities and sustainable building models. The search for an effective strategy to building sustainable and resilient buildings has sparked creative efforts, and these efforts are just at the beginning stage.

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