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Precast Concrete: Resiliency in the Face of Fury

By Claude Goguen, P.E., LEED AP

With Hurricane Sandy’s recent invasion of the eastern seashore, Mother Nature continues to deal out disasters at a seemingly higher pace in recent years. 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?”

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image5745956Bouncing 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 the environment while preserving the needs of 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. An example of a CJSI local program is the Smart Home Alabama (www.smarthomesalabama.org). Smart Home Alabama is a nonprofit organization whose desire was to alleviate the suffering that resulted from the collapse of the residential insurance market on the U.S. Gulf Coast following Hurricanes Ivan and Katrina.

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. It is currently funded through Oak Ridge National Labs and private sponsorship. CARRI seeks to understand how communities can best prepare for, respond to and, most importantly, recover from natural or man-made disasters and then translate that understanding into practical processes and tools to achieve ever-higher levels of resiliency.

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 and uses applied building science solutions to reduce the risks facing these properties.

CJSI works with agencies such as the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), Structural Engineering Institute (SEI), United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR), and the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS). UNISDR’s (www.unisdr.org) mandate is to serve as the focal point for the coordination of disaster reduction.

Precast concrete: safer and stronger

Sustainability is not just about being green – it’s about being green and resilient. The precast concrete industry provides not only the means to build strong structures that meet the test of time, but offers resilient building designs to withstand natural disasters and help protect citizens and services. We 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, NPCA’s director of Technical Services, at cgoguen@precast.org or call (317) 571-9500.


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