Sustainability is not just about being green – it’s about being green and resilient.
By Claude Goguen, P.E., LEED AP
Mother Nature continues to deal out disasters at a seemingly higher pace in recent years, including Hurricane Sandy’s visit to the eastern seashore late last year. Many communities in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Virginia and Delaware are faced with the same daunting task shared by cities like New Orleans, Tuscaloosa and Joplin: rebuilding. When rebuilding post-disaster, one question should be: “How can we be better prepared when this happens again? How can we enhance the resiliency of our community?”
The cover photo of the Nov. 26 issue of Newsweek magazine shows a house ravaged by Hurricane Sandy with the caption “12 Ways to Avoid the Next Catastrophe.” The article focuses primarily on our aging infrastructure and its susceptibility to disasters. Not mentioned are the commercial, institutional, industrial and residential buildings that are also at risk. That is why builders are taking a serious look at resilient construction materials such as precast concrete for infrastructure and buildings.
Bouncing back from disasters
What is resiliency? In the study of physics, it is the physical property of a material to return to its original shape or position after a deformation. Resiliency can describe how a friend successfully battles a debilitating illness, or how rapidly a community recovers from a natural disaster. It’s the ability to bounce back – or, more specific to precast concrete, a structure’s ability to withstand a storm’s stress forces without failure.
What does resiliency have to do with sustainability? Everything. Sustainability, in the broadest sense, is the utilization of resources in a manner that meets the needs of present generations and protects and preserves the environment for future generations. Buildings, roads and infrastructure that are designed and built to withstand natural and man-made disasters not only protect people and equipment, but also reduce the need for costly repair and rebuilding. Less rebuilding-related site disruption is a big part of being a responsible environmental steward.
Precast concrete builds resilient communities
Each year in the United States, natural disasters cause more than $35 billion in direct property loss, not to mention the loss of life. Disaster preparedness and community resiliency are on the forefront for U.S. Homeland Security and FEMA, and we will continue to hear more about this subject.
The goal is to build resilient communities. A resilient community anticipates problems, opportunities and the potential for unexpected events. It reduces vulnerabilities, and it responds effectively, fairly and legitimately. And a resilient community recovers rapidly and safely. In addition to critical disaster management services of local governments, a resilient community recognizes that private businesses, individual citizens and volunteer organizations are critical recovery resources.
Based on experience from past natural disasters, officials agree that the key to community recovery is getting businesses up and running. This means restoring essential services that supply electricity, water and communications as fast as possible. Precast concrete infrastructure, foundations, buildings and enclosures are perfectly suited to enhance a community’s ability to get back on its feet.
Concrete Joint Sustainability Initiative: helping in disaster recovery
The National Precast Concrete Association (NPCA) is a member of the Concrete Joint Sustainability Initiative (CJSI, www.sustainableconcrete.org), an industry coalition. CJSI is involved in outreach efforts to obtain resources from local agencies, Homeland Security and the United Nations in efforts to build resilient communities throughout the world.
CJSI has invited officials from the Community and Regional Resilience Institute (CARRI) and Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) to help them teach communities how to adopt a more resilient posture. CARRI (www.resilientus.org) was created through a request by the Department of Homeland Security to understand and evaluate how resiliency works within communities. IBHS (www.disastersafety.org) created a suite of FORTIFIED programs dedicated to improving the quality of residential and light commercial buildings. FORTIFIED programs feature practical, meaningful solutions for new and existing structures throughout the United States using applied building science solutions to reduce property risks.
Support for business tax credits for resilient construction
Back in December, the White House sent Congress its requested amount for federal funding to help affected areas recover from the destruction left by Hurricane Sandy.
While the request totaled $60.4 billion, of even greater importance to precast manufacturers is the White House request that federal assistance also be used “to prevent losses of this magnitude from future disasters.”
Last year, legislation was in the U.S. House of Representatives that would allow tax breaks for resilient construction in federally declared disaster sites. The bill, H.R. 5839, would enable contractors to take tax credits for rebuilding stronger, more resilient structures after a disaster.
A move in Congress to attach H.R. 5839 as an amendment to Hurricane Sandy relief failed, but the bill could emerge again in the 113th Congress. NPCA supports tax credits for resilient construction, because it is a common sense approach that would encourage stronger, disaster-resistant structures in regions prone to extreme weather.
Precast concrete: safer and stronger
Sustainability is not just about being green – it’s about being green and resilient. The precast concrete industry provides the means to build strong structures that meet the test of time, and offers resilient building designs to withstand natural disasters and help protect citizens and services. With this knowledge, you can encourage specifiers to consider resiliency when designing buildings and infrastructure and, in particular, to consider the outstanding resiliency of strong precast concrete when selecting materials.
For more information on the resiliency of precast concrete, contact Claude Goguen, P.E., LEED AP, NPCA’s director of Technical Services, at [email protected] or call (317) 571-9500.