It’s Our Responsiblity to Make Buildings More Resilient

There were tornado warnings in the south Chicago suburbs last night. Although the funnel-cloud-producing storm was still 43 miles south of my home, I was more nervous than usual. I’ve always lived in the Midwest; it’s not summer here if there aren’t tornado warnings and at least one warning sends you to the basement. However, the tornado that demolished Moore, Okla., happened only weeks ago (as I write this) and memories of other cyclone-annihilated communities—Greensburg, Kan., and Joplin, Mo.—are fresh in my mind.

It’s not just tornadoes that seem to be occurring more frequently and at devastating proportions. Since retrofit started printing with the September-October 2012 issue, our nation has experienced far too many natural and manmade disasters. First, there was Superstorm Sandy that ravaged New Jersey and New York in October 2012; retrofit’s salesman Dan Burke is still dealing with the aftermath of losing his home. In December 2012, we lost 20 elementary-school children and six of their teachers and staff in the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings in Newtown, Conn. In April, we sat fixated to our televisions as Boston authorities hunted for the marathon bombing suspects in a city that was eerily and completely shut down. What will happen next? How can we prepare for such terrifying events?

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Washington, D.C., was created after the 9-11 attacks to keep our nation safe from all types of threats—terrorist, natural, cyber and more. Despite more than 240,000 employees, DHS cannot do it all. Ultimately, we are responsible for our own safety and security, and, I believe, our buildings must be a major part of our strategy. In this issue’s “Trend Alert,” we cover the concept of resilient buildings and what it will take to strengthen our existing buildings against disastrous events that seem to be occurring much more frequently.

I write about DHS’ Integrated Rapid Visual Screening (IRVS) tool, which identifies structural and operational vulnerabilities in all types of commercial buildings. St. Clair County, Mich., currently is using IRVS to complete thorough risk assessments of the county’s critical buildings and infrastructure. Not only is the tool free to download and use, it also is user-friendly. “Some of the tools that come out of the federal government are very complicated; IRVS is not,” says Jeff Friedland, the county’s Homeland Security emergency management director. In the past year, his team has used the tool to screen 18 buildings.

In many states and municipalities, critical facilities, such as hospitals, police stations and fire services, often are required to be more resilient than other commercial buildings and homes. However, as Stephen S. Szoke, P.E., FACI, director of Codes and Standards for the Skokie, Ill.-based Portland Cement Association, alludes, employees of critical facilities can’t work when they are preoccupied with their own destroyed homes. To make all buildings more resilient, PCA has developed non-product-specific performance requirements intended to be modifications to the International Building Code. Read about the requirements.

The “Trend Alert” section concludes with several products designed to make buildings more resilient and/or help them resume operations more quickly after an event. In addition, in our new “Technology” section, we highlight a new type of stud and wall panel made from glass fibers and resin, which has been third-party tested to withstand 250-plus-mph winds. The new material faces hurdles, as the article points out, and you may have your own questions after reading about it. To answer these questions, retrofit is hosting a webinar with James Antonic, the manufacturing firm’s CEO, on Aug. 20. Learn more about the webinar and register.

It’s not a coincidence that health care, a facility type that must continue operating in the face of all kinds of disasters, is the other major focus of this issue. Two articles highlight how preplanning assists in creating flexible laboratory spaces—cover feature–and reduces the adverse impacts of construction in occupied health-care facilities—“Business”.

Recent events have me pondering how my role with retrofit can help strengthen buildings against all types of threats. I don’t have the skills to structurally reinforce an existing building, but I can write about resilience-related materials, tools and research and hopefully inspire you to rethink the way you’re designing and building and even operating facilities. Sure, there are first-cost hurdles to overcome, but I can think of very few things worth more than a human life. Can you?

About the Author

Christina A. Koch
Christina A. Koch is editorial director and associate publisher of retrofit.

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