- In a report to Congress, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, a division of the U.S. Department of Commerce, has outlined the steps necessary to increase building functionality after natural disasters so that post-event impact to communities — both residential and commercial — will not be as severe.
- In 2017, Congress requested that NIST come up with "immediate occupancy (IO)" building codes and performance standards strategies to make more buildings — not just emergency centers like hospitals — more resilient to a wide variety of hazards. To do this, the agency said in its report that there must be more research on the relationships between building, economic and societal function; more data on post-event impact and building performance; and development of predictive models. In order to implement IO standards, NIST said it is necessary to develop the appropriate guidance documents and design standards; establish metrics and tools supportive to the prediction, evaluation and decision-making processes; and offer education and training to stakeholders.
- Some of the obstacles to making buildings more functionally resilient after a natural disaster, according to NIST, are: convincing communities to invest in IO standards in advance of the event; clarifying the costs and benefits; influencing and incentivizing private owners to make the necessary investments in their buildings; determining special implementation procedures for public buildings since some do not have to comply with local codes; dealing with the old structures that tend to house the most at-risk populations; determining who is liable for building performance; and encouraging collaboration in standards development.
Last year, communities across the country were ravaged by wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes and floods. Recovery from these disasters has been harder on some areas of the country than it has been on others. As of April, about five months after Hurricane Maria devastated the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, the island still had about $50 billion of recovery work ahead of it.
Much of the focus has been on post-event cleanup and rebuilding, but some agencies have traveled the path that NIST is on now and have pushed for funding and other actions to make communities more resilient. These efforts are likely helped along by reports like the one from the National Institute of Buildings Sciences that found there is an average $6 savings for every federal grant dollar spent on disaster resiliency and mitigation.
To that end and as part of a $28 billion grant announced in April, the Department of Housing and Urban Development is spending $16 billion on damage prevention measures like the purchase of homes in flood-prone areas, raising structures above floodplains and strengthening utility systems.