By Claude Goguen, P.E.
What is resilience? In the study of physics, it is the physical property of a material that can return to its original shape or position after a deformation that does not exceed the material’s elastic limit. We can also use resilience to describe how a friend successfully battles a debilitating illness, or we can use resilience to describe how a community recovers from a natural disaster. So basically, it’s the ability to bounce back – or, more specific to precast concrete, a structure’s ability to withstand stress forces without failure.
What does resilience 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 repairing and rebuilding, resulting in decreased environmental impact.
Precast concrete hospital weathers storm
An image often shown of the aftermath of the tornado that hit Joplin, Mo., last year reveals a lone structure standing that used to be St. John’s Regional Medical Center. A CNN report on May 23, 2011, ran the headline: “Damaged Joplin hospital almost the only building left standing in area” with the following excerpt: “A statue of a cross out front appeared to be the only thing left undamaged. However, the hospital was very nearly the only building left standing, as the nearby area was flattened by the twister.” While substantial damages occurred, including broken windows and flying debris, the building remained standing and protected the hundreds of patients and staff inside because the hospital is constructed of concrete with strong and resilient precast concrete exterior panels.
Precast concrete for building resilient communities
Each year in the United States, natural disasters cause more than $35 billion in direct property loss, not to mention the tremendous loss of life. The subject of disaster preparedness and community resilience has been on the forefront of agencies such as Homeland Security and FEMA, and we will hear about this subject more and more. 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 (responds equally to all residents without discrimination) and legitimately. And a resilient community recovers rapidly, safely and fairly. In addition to the key disaster management services that local governments provide, a resilient community recognizes that private businesses, individual citizens and volunteer organizations and associations are critical parts of the fabric of a community and play significant roles in community resilience.
Based on experience during past natural disasters, officials agree that the key to community recovery is getting business up and running. This means essential services that supply electricity, water and communications must be restored 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
NPCA is a member of the Concrete Joint Sustainability Initiative (CJSI, www.sustainableconcrete.org), an industry coalition. As such, NPCA is involved with outreach efforts to organizations from local agencies to Homeland Security to the United Nations in an effort to contribute to building resilient communities throughout the world. An example of a local program CJSI has worked with is the Smart Home Alabama (www.smarthomesalabama.com) program. 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 Community and Regional Resilience Institute (CARRI) and Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) to help communities 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 resilience 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 that assist communities to move to ever-higher levels of resilience achievement.
IBHS (www.disastersafety.org) created a suite of FORTIFIED programs that is dedicated to improving the quality of residential and light commercial buildings. The 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 leadership has also been in contact with the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction. UNISDR (www.unisdr.org) has a mandate to serve as the focal point for the coordination of disaster reduction. UNISDR works to ensure synergies among the disaster-reduction activities of the U.N. system and among regional organizations and activities in socio-economic and humanitarian fields. This was in response to a need for mainstreaming disaster-risk reduction within the United Nations.
Precast concrete: safer and stronger
Sustainability is not just about being green – it’s about being green and resilient. The precast concrete industry not only can provide the means to build strong structures that will meet the test of time, but resilient precast building designs can withstand natural disasters and help protect citizens and services. We encourage manufacturers to talk to specifiers about the outstanding resiliency of precast concrete, as NPCA continues to participate with disaster-preparedness agencies around the world in efforts to make our communities safer and stronger.
For more information on the resiliency of precast concrete, contact Claude Goguen, NPCA’s director of Technical Services, at [email protected] or call (317) 571-9500.
Claude Goguen, P.E., is NPCA’s director of Technical Services.