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Buildings are for people: Engaging occupants on resilience

Recently I was on a panel at the Behavior, Energy, and Climate Change conference that explored the relationship between human engagement and climate resilience and discussed effective behavior change strategies for resilience and energy efficiency. I presented DNV GL’s B-READY tool, which assesses the resilience of buildings and provides actionable recommendations for improvement on a building system basis. While B-READY is a building resilience assessment, the occupants of the building are a key component to the building’s resilience. After all, as the conference panel was titled, buildings are for people.

As part of the B-READY assessment, community engagement workshops are recommended to involve the residents of the building in the resilience process. These workshops seek to achieve three main goals: 1) assess the community’s current level of resilience, 2) solicit meaningful feedback to understand the community’s concerns and ensure that recommended measures are aligned with their needs, and 3) raise awareness of resilience, how the building can support the occupants and how the occupants can prepare and support each other.

During the panel, one of the audience members asked an insightful question:
When talking with people about resilience, how do you garner their attention and motivate them to take action without overwhelming them? First of all, make sure to give people the tools and resources they need to prepare and be more resilient so that they feel empowered rather than afraid. Additionally, enhancing the social fabric of the community and approaching resilience as a group rather than as individuals can help preparedness seem less daunting. A great example of a preparedness activity that utilizes community engagement is the Great Shake Out. Every year at 10:19 AM on October 19th, millions of people across the world participate in an earthquake drill. It’s a good reminder that an earthquake could happen, particularly in the Bay Area, and if one does we will get under our desks and shake it out. You would be hard pressed to find many individuals who practice earthquake drills on their own, so by making it a community event, participation and preparedness are increased.

This question made me reflect on the feelings I had been having the week leading up to the conference. Just weeks after Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria caused massive devastation and damage across the United States, a catastrophic disaster hit much closer to home. Multiple wildfires fueled by the abundant vegetation, warm temperatures, and strong winds caused horrific devastation – 42 people dead, 8,400 structures destroyed, including 3,000 homes in Santa Rosa alone[1]. Friends and co-workers lost their homes. Smoke was thick in the air. Despite working in resilience, I felt overwhelmed by the catastrophic loss.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by climate change and extreme events but it’s important to remember that resilience is effective, both for people and for buildings. Here are a few examples of resilience in action:

  • An Urban Land Institute (ULI) report published in 2015 provides case studies for the returns on resilience. One of the case studies from the report is Arverne by the Sea, located in Queens, New York. The mixed-use community on Rockaway Beach suffered minimal water and wind damage and no fire damage while Hurricane Sandy devastated the surrounding area. The $1 billion project invested $100 million in resilience and achieved 10 – 15 % returns on their investment. Resilience strategies incorporated into Arverne by the Sea include: Fortified dunes, elevated grade, improved stormwater drainage, angled streets to protect against winds, weather-resistant siding, underground utility lines, and hurricane-resistant windows[2]. Arverne got power back more than a week faster than its neighbors and served as the regional hub of recovery.
  • In Miami, 1450 Brickell, a high-rise Class A office building, was designed to withstand 300 mile per hour winds, approximately twice a Category 5 hurricane. In addition, the building has two backup generators capable of supplying 30% of the power needed for the building and an elevated ground floor to protect against flooding[3]. The investments in both sustainability and resilience paid off for the LEED Gold building with the $15 million investment recouping annual electricity cost savings of $1 million, competitive insurance premiums, increased marketability, and faster leasing[4]. The resilient building re-opened only days after Hurricane Irma swept through the Brickell financial district, with power and air conditioning, having withstood the storm well[5].
  • Florida is an excellent example of developing more resilient buildings in response to extreme storms. After Hurricane Andrew revealed the devastation caused by lax building codes, Florida implemented more stringent codes in 2002. New or retrofitted homes with hurricane resistant windows and doors, as well as standing seam metal roofs, fared well during Hurricane Irma. Though research is preliminary, buildings built to the new codes appear to have held up better during Irma compared to older homes, which were severely damaged. Kevin Simmons of Austin College has conducted research in Florida on insured-loss data from 2001 to 2010. The research showed that the new building code reduced hurricane-related losses by 72% and yielded $6 in avoided losses per $1 additional spent on construction[6].

Areas that frequently experience extreme events tend to be more ready for resilience. The success and savings of these resilience investments serve as an important lesson learned for other areas of the country. In the future, we will see an increase in extreme weather events. It will be important for buildings and for people to be resilient.

[1] http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2017/10/california-fires-damage-total/
[2] http://uli.org/wp-content/uploads/ULI-Documents/Returns-on-Resilience-The-Business-Case.pdf
[3] https://casestudies.uli.org/1450-brickell/
[4] http://uli.org/wp-content/uploads/ULI-Documents/Returns-on-Resilience-The-Business-Case.pdf
[5] http://www.beyondrealtygroup.com/blog/2017/9/15/the-impact-of-hurricane-irma-on-miami-real-estate
[6] https://www.wsj.com/articles/one-early-lesson-from-irma-hurricane-building-codes-work-1505559600

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