Harvey, Irma, Maria, Nate: Increasing Building Resiliency in the Face of Climate Uncertainty

January 18, 2018

Written by Verdani Team Members: Jessica Loeper (Main Author), Kelly Hagarty and Daniele Horton. Edited by Anne Shiraishi.   

 

2017 has proven to be a devastating year for powerful storms, fires and hurricanes. With an upward trend of increased average global temperatures, the effects of climate change will continue to worsen and intensify. In addition to hurricanes, we have also seen many other climate related risks including longer fire seasons, accelerated rates of coastal erosion, higher intensity of storms, greater numbers of drought-prone areas, and increased river runoff, all of which pose a threat to water resources, biological systems, agriculture, and human health.

 

As scientists continue to predict stronger weather patterns, it is essential that we learn to adapt to this new climate. It’s time to think strategically about how our existing buildings and infrastructure needs to be renovated and new developments redesigned to incorporate resiliency strategies. We must become proactive instead of reactive.

 

Think Regionally

 

Since each region faces different risks, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to climate change adaptation. To address these risks and increase resilience, we must understand them from a regional perspective and devise adaptation strategies accordingly. Building resilience planning requires property managers and owners to adapt the fixed, long-term nature of real estate assets to the ever-changing world and safeguard them against these extreme climate risks, the related financial risks, and maintain building occupant safety.

 

In addition, cities must also step up to ensure that energy, infrastructure, and transportation networks are fortified during more frequent and severe weather events. Partnerships between private and public sectors are key to ensuring that assets are protected and made resilient in the face of climate change and natural disasters.

 

While resiliency requires multi-stakeholder collaboration, there are many strategies that property owners and managers can consider when assessing a building’s vulnerabilities.

 

Resilience Strategies for New and Existing Buildings

 

  1. Assess Vulnerability and Risk: Performing a risk assessment for existing buildings is an important first step of a resilience program because it helps owners to better understand their risks and develop a strategy to address them. Some sustainability strategies we have helped our real estate clients implement include a Climate Change and Resiliency Guide and a risk assessment analysis of their existing assets and future investments prior to acquisition.

  2. Make a Plan: After determining the potential risks, it’s time to establish a plan that details the steps needed for a property to be prepared in the event of a disaster. First evaluate the existing infrastructure and determine if there are changes that need to be made to ensure the building can withstand a disaster. The next step is to have a tangible action plan in place for all occupants to know what to do when disaster strikes. Some cities have already created a resiliency plan. One example is the City of LA Resiliency Plan and Resiliency LA initiatives. Cities like Los Angeles have also added resiliency officers to help them prepare. These resources provide a well-rounded understanding of how cities and buildings can prepare for disaster. Verdani’s resiliency guide are more specific to recommended actions at a building level. 

  3. Optimize Building Structures and Sites: There are several concrete steps that can be taken to optimize sites and structures for extreme weather conditions. For areas with extreme heat, analyze the possibility of a white roof or installing vegetation on the roof. Implement hazard resilient landscape design by growing plants with a large root system (trees, shrubs, native vegetation) that allow for water to percolate faster. Depending on the year of the building, it may be necessary to add extra insulation to ceilings, walls, and crawlspaces. Utilize materials that can withstand potential flooding and manage heat gains. Flood proofing your site especially underground spaces is critical.

  4. Fortify Building Systems: Prioritize what critical systems need the most backup and conduct frequent tests to ensure the backup power systems can bear the load required in case of an emergency. Resilient heating, cooling and ventilation systems allow for cross ventilation for passive cooling if equipment is no longer operating as designed during disaster. Ensure that there are building water reserves available if occupants must stay at the building and the plumbing pipes are inoperable. Extend emergency lighting and services. In addition, keep generators or other back up power sources located on higher ground in flood prone areas to ensure the units will remain in operation in the case of an emergency.

  5. Streamline Building Operations: Beyond buildings, sites, and systems, the operational procedures of your properties are just as important for resilience during a disaster. An emergency communications plan is vital. Print hardcopies of tenant listings to assist in evacuation and outreach services before, during, and after disasters. Train building and facility teams to be prepared for emergency repairs. Keep the emergency plan readily accessible on the building’s website. See sample from City National Plaza, a Los Angeles property managed by CommonWealth Partners.

  6. Protect People: Finally, our most valuable assets need their own comprehensive plan. During heat waves, vulnerable populations such as children and the elderly are most in need of cool areas in the building, which should be run on a generator in the event of a power outage. Make time to meet with tenants to go over what potential needs they may have in case of an emergency and identify local shelters and other options available to assist them. It is important to also identify the most vulnerable building occupants and have a plan for them. As an example, during a black out in New York, some of the building occupants including contracted workers such as janitorial staff that depended on public transportation were stranded at the property for five days. Since then, the building has made provisions for having cots on site and identified a location that occupants could sleep in the case of another power outage. It is also recommended to install outlet plugs in common areas that can be used by occupants and the community in case they need to power their cellphones to communicate with loved ones.

While it may seem like there are a lot of steps to take to be fully prepared for a disaster, it is much easier to be proactive and ready than reactive and attempt to implement these resiliency strategies after a disaster has already struck.

 

NEED HELP?

 

Verdani Partners has been able to help many of its clients prepare strategically for the uncertainties posed by climate change risks. If you need help in creating a resiliency plan for your team or property, or would like more about these topics you can reach out to us by sending an e-mail to info@verdani.com.

 

RESILIENCY STRATEGIES COLLABORATION WORKSHOP

 

 

Would like to learn more on how to get involved? Would you like to learn strategies on how to rebuild our homes and businesses smarter? Our new non-profit organization Verdani Institute for the Built Environment is organizing a Resilience Collaboration workshop to work with our local A & E peers on strategies to help rebuild recently displaced communities in a more resilient and sustainable way. The event will take place on Friday, November 17, 2017 at the University of San Diego Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice at 5998 Alcala Park, San Diego, CA 92110. We will be sharing solutions for temporary housing, energy and water generation, and more. If you are interested in presenting at or attending the workshop, please contact us! We need architects, mechanical, electrical and structural engineers, urban planners, landscape architects, resiliency and sustainability professionals, housing organizations, industry associations, local government reps, utility reps, and much more! We will start with a 90 Minutes webinar presentation in which different experts will share their experiences and recommendations on the topic. Non-local experts can contribute and participate on the presentation portion of our meeting remotely. The second part of the event will be used for brainstorming solutions together. 

 

 

 

TO PARTICIPATE:

  • Events Page: Click on this link for additional information and register for the event.

  • Sign up as a speaker: Click on this link to sign up as a speaker.

  • Stay in touch: Please follow VIBE’s Facebook page to collaborate with us on resiliency strategies an ongoing basis.

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