Keeping buildings functioning after natural disasters

“Immediate occupancy performance measures would help avoid catastrophes because they could build up a community’s resiliency against natural hazards so that people still can live at home, still can go to work and still can have the supporting infrastructure providing them services such as water and electricity,” McCabe said.

NIST notes that in 2017, Congress tasked NIST to define what it would take to achieve immediate occupancy performance codes and standards for all buildings in all types of natural hazards, specifically in terms of fundamental research needs, possible technological applications based on that research and key strategies that could be used to implement any resulting regulations.

The result of that effort is the new NIST report, Research Needs to Support Immediate Occupancy Building Performance Objective Following Natural Hazard Events(NIST Special Publication 1224). The publication identifies a large portfolio of research and implementation activities that target enhanced performance objectives for residential and commercial buildings.

“The report provides valuable information about steps that could be taken to achieve immediate occupancy in the future,” McAllister said.

The potential research activities presented in the report to Congress were developed with the assistance of a steering committee of recognized experts and stakeholder input obtained during a national workshop hosted by NIST in January 2018. The workshop participants identified four key areas that they believe must be considered when developing plans to achieve immediate occupancy performance: building design, community needs, economic and social impacts, and fostering acceptance and use of new practices.

For example, the report states that immediate occupancy performance measures must be developed, established and implemented with a sensitivity to how they will economically affect building owners, business operators, occupants and even whole communities. “You have to make sure that the cost of keeping buildings functional after natural hazards remains reasonable enough that everyone will be able to afford them,” McCabe said.

The report also discusses key challenges facing the effort to make buildings functional in the wake of natural hazards, such as motivating communities to make the investment, managing how costs and benefits are balanced, and garnering public support.

Finally, the report concludes by recognizing that “increasing the performance goals for buildings would not be easily achieved, but the advantages may be substantial” and that making such objectives a reality “would entail a significant shift in practice for development, construction and maintenance or retrofit of buildings.” The report, its authors state, is the first step toward creating an action plan to achieve immediate occupancy across the nation with coordinated and detailed research goals and implementation activities.

“Our report outlines the steps that could be taken for a big raise of the bar—perhaps the biggest change in building standards and codes in 50 years—but one we believe is possible,” McCabe said.