White House embraces codes and standards-driven resiliency

“Building codes set the baseline for the safe design and construction of our homes, schools and workplaces, providing the minimum requirements to adequately safeguard the health, safety and welfare of occupants,” the Obama administration noted in a statement on last month’s Conference on Resilient Building Codes. The one-day, White House-hosted event dovetailed an announcement of actions across federal agencies overseeing or influencing building and nonbuilding construction:

  • President Obama declared May National Building Safety Month to recognize and pay tribute to those who ensure the safety and resilience of the nation’s buildings and infrastructure, as well as reaffirm commitment to upholding and abiding by strong and effective building safety standards.
  • Incorporating resilient building codes, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will review its existing building construction requirements with the goal of aligning them to the most recent model building codes and standards for resilient construction.
  • To update the 2005 Multihazard Mitigation Council “Mitigation Saves Study,” the Federal Emergency Management Agency will support a National Institute of Building Sciences effort to revisit models demonstrating that for every dollar spent on hazard mitigation, society saves $4. A successor document, “An Independent Study on Savings Associated with Public and Private Mitigation,” seeks to update the original “Mitigation Saves” data and gauge cost-effectiveness of private-sector mitigation.
  • In addition, FEMA will commit to further explore incentivizing state and local level building code adoption and enforcement through the Disaster Deductible for the Public Assistance Program. In January 2016, the agency published an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking introducing the Public Assistance Program deductible as a general concept and soliciting stakeholder input. A revised plan would allow states to earn credits toward their deductible requirement through building code adoption and enforcement.
  • Along with FEMA and sister agencies, the Department of Commerce-hosted National Institute of Standards and Technology is developing advanced tornado hazard maps, which will underpin a new performance-based standard for design of buildings and other structures to better resist weather extremes. The hazard maps and standard will help design professionals ensure that future buildings are better equipped to withstand the impacts of high winds and debris.
  • The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has launched a Building Resilience site, to promote more resilient communities through use of the latest standards and criteria, building codes, and recent climate science. Its serves as a starting point for planners and designers with needs for greater building safety and resilience.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Sustainable Communities has scheduled for a fall release of the report, “Smart Growth Code Fixes for Climate Adaptation,” providing communities a menu of prospective policy, zoning and building code changes, while bringing other environmental, economic, social and health benefits.
  • The Federal Interagency Mitigation Framework Leadership Group plans to release by September “Implementation Strategy for Increasing Disaster Resilience Through Federal Support for Building Code Adoption and Enforcement.” It will identify activities federal departments and agencies can use to align programs, resources, and coordination efforts in the pursuit of increased resilience through building code adoption and enforcement.
  • The Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Infrastructure Protection will produce a Community Infrastructure Resilience Toolkit later this year, providing actionable guidance for building critical infrastructure resilience considerations into planning and resource allocation decisions at the community level.
  • With an eye to incorporating sustainability and resilience in rural housing programs, the Department of Agriculture will review existing project requirements to align with the most recent model codes and standards for resilient construction. This action responds to 2014 USDA Climate Change Adaptation Plan recommendations.
  • In partnership with the General Services Administration, the Department of Transportation is seeking an exchange partner to redevelop the 14-acre John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems Center in Cambridge, Mass., using principles of resilient design on the new Federal building portion of the project.

7 Henry iie

Henry Green

“Today we are witnessing an increased frequency of disasters … wildfires, floods, tornados, mudslides. We have a direct relationship with how communities grow and respond,” Green observed. “If you are in business, do you want your building operating days or months after an event?” In the face of facility downtime, he added, “We should think about jobs lost, people not making car payments, not just the building itself.”

To amplify the role conference participants can play in codes, standards and practice, Green invoked a poster child of sustainability and life cycle construction: The Pantheon, Rome, 126 A.D. “Concrete is one of the most sustainable materials created. If you stand on anything, you can say concrete is one of the long[est] lasting materials.”