With the cost of natural and climate related disasters setting a new record in 2017, many are looking to engineers to develop mitigation strategies for the build environment. A new report highlights some of the most effective strategies.
Hurricane Irma, the strongest Atlantic basin storm on record, cost the US economy approximately $100 billion. Image Credit: Pixabay
If you think 2017 was an extraordinary year for natural disasters in the United States, you are correct. From hurricanes slamming into Texas and the East coast to wildfires in the West, the United States incurred costs almost triple than the record set in 2005. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports that weather and climate related disasters cost the United States $305 billion in 2017, which eclipses the $100 billion of costs in 2005. Furthermore, a report released by Goldman Sachs indicates that effects of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma alone decreased growth in the US Gross Domestic Product by one full point. While the economic costs of these extreme weather and climate events are immense, the hidden societal costs, such as loss of life, injuries, and psychological trauma, are exceptional. What, if anything, can engineers and architects do in their work to increase the resilience of the built environment to reduce both the economic and human costs related to natural disasters?
Engineering Resilience Provides Multiple Dividends
California wildfires broke records in 2017 – the Thomas fire resulted in the most acres burned (281,893) and the Tubbs fire destroyed 5,643 homes. Image Credit: Bjorgialt via Wikimedia Commons.
A new report published by the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS), Natural Hazard Mitigation Saves: 2017 Interim Report, provides the results of an analysis of 23 years of data related to the outcomes of Federal natural hazard mitigation grants. In addition, the authors of the paper also explored the benefits of designing and building structures to exceed the specifications of the 2015 International Codes. What strategies were found to be effective in terms of reducing the economic and societal costs of natural disasters?
Effective Public Sector Mitigation Strategies
The authors of the NIBS report examined outcomes of grants issued by the following Federal agencies:
- Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
- U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA)
- U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)
They found that for every $ 1 spent on structural and non-structural natural hazard mitigation realized $ 6 in savings in post disaster recovery.
Examples of some of the most effective mitigation strategies reported by the NIBS authors include the following:
- The acquisition and/or demolition of flood prone single family homes, duplexes, quadruplexes and manufactured homes increases the flood resistance of entire communities.
- The installation of hurricane shutters and tornado safe rooms significantly reduces wind damage to homes and other buildings.
- Fortifying and strengthening structural and non-structural parts of buildings improves earthquake resistance
- Fire resilience is enhanced by roof replacement, fastidious vegetation management, and the replacement of wood water tanks.
The Benefits of Exceeding 2015 International Codes
The authors of the NIBS report found that designing and constructing a building that exceeds the specifications outline in the 2015 International Codes saves four dollars for every dollar spent. In addition, exceeding these standards has the potential to create 87,000 new long-term jobs as well as increasing spending on domestically produced construction material. Some examples of the strategies found effective include the following:
- Building coastal and riverside homes higher than the code recommendations significantly decreases the risk of flood damage.
- Constructing new homes and renovating existing homes to meet or exceed the standards of the Institute from Business and Home Safety Home Hurricane FORTIFIED guidelines effectively limits the damage from hurricane force winds.
- Wildfire resilience increases when the structure meets or exceeds the 2015 Wildland – Urban Interface Codes
Engineering Resilience Protects Lives
In addition to saving homes and businesses, building structures that are resilience in the face of natural disasters also save lives. For example, designing and constructing buildings that exceed code can prevent 600 deaths annually and avoid one million non-fatal casualties. Additionally, approximately 4,000 cases of storm related cases of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can be prevented. These benefits are truly priceless.
How do you incorporate engineer storm and natural disaster resilience into your projects?