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Resilient Buildings: Standing In The Face Of Disaster

As disasters become more frequent, communities can look to codes, standards, and financing to achieve sustainable, resilient buildings.

By Ryan M. Colker, J.D., CAE
From the October 2023 Issue
of facility executive

A community’s ability to survive and thrive following a disastrous event often hinges on the state of its building stock. While often taken for granted, buildings are the foundation that makes economies work. The workforce relies on the availability of housing and schools, while businesses need warehouses, office buildings, stores, and factories to conduct their operations.

As disasters become more frequent and intense, the importance of a resilient building stock becomes increasingly important. By September 2023, the U.S. broke the record for annual disasters causing $1 billion or more in damages¹ with 23 such disasters (surpassing the 22 we saw in 2020). These events spanned the country and included two flooding events, 18 severe storm events, one tropical cyclone event, one wildfire event, and one winter storm event. These events do not include more localized or smaller scale events that still significantly impact communities.

Social And Economic Resilience Through Buildings

The social and economic resilience of communities relies on the ability of buildings to remain operational. For most design level events, modern, up-to-date building codes provide a level of protection that keeps community members safe.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) found that the application of building codes provided more than $27 billion in cumulative mitigation benefits against flood, hurricane wind, and earthquake hazards from 2000 to 2016. However, that application is not uniform: 65% of counties, cities, and towns across the U.S. have not adopted modern building codes, only 50% of cumulative post-2000 construction adhered to the International Codes (I-Codes), and 30% of new construction is occurring in communities with no codes at all or codes that are more than 20 years outdated. If all new buildings across the U.S. were built to modern editions of the I-Codes, the country would save more than $600 billion by 2060.

In addition to the growing frequency of hazards like hurricanes and wildfires, extreme heat or extreme cold events are becoming more commonplace. Buildings again provide a respite from such events. A recent U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) study found that applying the latest editions of energy codes (the 2021 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) and ASHRAE Standard 90.1-2019) can save lives² with benefit cost ratios from 2 to over 7.2.

These savings come in addition to the energy and sustainability benefits that come with using the latest I-Codes…

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