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Wind Cannon Test of the Fortified House

Resilient design proposes to allow buildings, communities, and regions to anticipate, absorb, adapt to, and rapidly recover from disruptive events. While the term has been equated with disaster relief, the meaning is changing to reflect new design challenges.

The concept of resilient design has gained currency since the introduction of the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) of 2007. EISA focused attention on “high performance buildings” that integrate and optimize attributes including energy efficiency, durability, life-cycle performance, and occupant productivity. Building on EISA’s positive momentum, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) launched its own programs, such as the High Performance and Integrated Design Program, starting in 2009.

US building stock is vulnerable to natural and manmade disasters. As DHS notes, builders and developers have no incentive to exceed minimum performance as defined in current codes and standards. Without guidance for improved performance, life safety in buildings is largely constrained to evacuation and seeking shelter versus ensuring that structures withstand disruptive events such as explosive attack, flood, hurricane, snow/ice, structure fire, tornado, and wildland fire.

As a consequence, the costs of disasters are going up. The National Weather Service reports that, though the frequency of hurricane and tornado events has remained relatively steady through the years, property losses have increased dramatically. These data substantiate that it’s the type of construction that is problematic. With NOAA and NASA predicting more frequent and severe weather events, the situation should get worse.

Several approaches are helping to change the trajectory:

Choose appropriate construction types. Communities can decide what survivability strategies make the most sense to them, balancing durability with practicality. Which structures should be built to withstand disruptive events, and which might it be better to rebuild after an event? Put appropriate materials in place to address threats to continuity.

Leverage nature. Natural features such as swamps, wetlands, dunes, islands and sandbars, trees and other plantings can mitigate the severity of storm impacts. Natural features can be reintroduced in places where they may have been lost or replaced with development.

Advocate for stronger building codes.  Building codes are updated every few years to improve performance and protect property and life safety. Code officials should be encouraged to move quickly to adopt standards and practices that improve resiliency. With investment increasing in high performance buildings that integrate and optimize energy efficiency, durability, life-cycle performance, and occupant productivity, it makes sense that they should also be able to survive disruptive events. Though they may still experience failures in these events, high performance buildings designed for resiliency can help avoid extreme property losses and opportunity costs and allow more occupants and communities to resume operations sooner.

PCI discusses precast concrete as a resilient design solution in its Storm Resistance Overview.

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