Addressing the recent Third United Nations World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Japan, former Titan America CEO and past Portland Cement Association Chairman Aris Papadopoulos traced the developed world’s failure to create a disaster-resilient built environment to government and market forces. His presentation carried the theme of his new book, Resilience – The Ultimate Sustainability, emphasizing the example of the United States, with the world’s largest investment in the built environment; greatest exposure to disaster losses among developed nations; and, overall proneness to hazards, with earthquakes in the West, hurricanes on the South and East coasts, flooding potential almost everywhere, and tornado volume higher than most any other place on earth.
Against that backdrop, Papadopoulos observes, “You would expect [the country’s] building codes to be very strong … But they are not.” Eighty percent of the U.S. built environment is residential and light commercial, where the bar for resilience is set low. Infrastructure, large commercial and public buildings command most of the attention in resiliency dialog.
“Hazards don’t cause disasters; nonresilience causes disasters. We create nonresilience, therefore we cause disasters,” contends Papadopoulos, who cites three drivers for increased resilience in the U.S. built environment:
- Regulatory issues. The country has no national building code. States and localities make compromises and exceptions to model codes; the result is low resilience codes, especially for residential.
- Governance. There is no national leadership driving resilience. Strategy is to react to emergencies rather than a long-term proactive effort to improve resilience.
- Market. The country needs greater transparency; more accountability when things go wrong, not just of public officials but also of builders. Incentives for stronger construction that goes beyond the codes or minimum standards are lacking.