With the costs for reconstruction after natural disasters aiming to exceed the nation’s financial abilities, “I think people are starting to recognize that it’s really unsustainable to keep trying to recover from these types of events,” says Ryan Colker, vice president for the National Institute of Building Sciences and executive director for Alliance for National and Community Resilience (ANCR). Not without seriously rethinking the way we build our homes and communities, Colker and other experts suggest.

As a result, a movement toward more resilient housing has emerged, calling for wider code adoptions and houses that are designed to sustain families in the days following a disastrous event. As far back as 2012, programs emerged around the idea of incentivizing resiliency, including a Fortified Home program launched by the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS). In recent weeks, ANCR and the International Code Council (ICC) stepped in with a new community resilience benchmarks on buildings—including a pilot document that focuses on providing communities with mechanisms for evaluation.

For its Fortified Home program, IBHS includes three categories of fortification, based on specific needs for certain areas (hurricane, wind and hail, for instance). Within each category, there are three levels of designation: bronze, silver and gold, for which homes must document specific upgrades. In order to achieve Gold-level designation for hurricane standards, for instance, all doors, windows and skylights must be impact-rated. But there are plenty of indications to suggest that simply following current building codes makes a significant difference, suggests Jeffrey Inks, senior vice president of advocacy for the Window and Door Manufacturers Association (WDMA).

“I think, by and large, the building codes are more there than they ever have been, and they continue to get more there with every revision,” Inks says. “I think we have to rely on that. What’s in the building code, particularly with respect to design pressures and design requirements, wind loads, and how homes should be built—we’ve got a tremendous amount of sound data and science, and the best engineering minds behind all of that.”

Colker says that a holistic approach to identifying and incorporating resilience-based measures into the building stock of communities—including the adoption of the latest building codes—supports the mitigation of damage from natural disasters. For this reason, a key focus of ICC and ANCR’s new benchmark system includes, “encouraging local governments to adopt building codes and to provide the human, technical and financial resources necessary to support permitting, plan review and inspections.”

“These benchmarks provide a standard for local and state governments to follow, ensuring they are well prepared for the next disaster,” Colker says.

To kickstart its initiative, ANCR is working with the city of Washington, D.C., to implement exemplary planning through evaluation of current building stock, which ANCR board Chairman Maj. General Warren C. Edwards (Ret.) says, “… will prove an invaluable resource as D.C. plans for the future.”

For the development of ICC and ANCR’s building benchmarks, a number of state and local government officials were involved, ANCR officials say, including representatives from the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development and the New York City Department of Buildings. Representatives from across the building industry were also pulled in, including designers, manufacturers, trade groups and nonprofits. But the process is far from complete. Throughout 2019, officials for ANCR say their organization will engage subject matter experts in the development of additional benchmarks, including those for housing, business, energy and water infrastructure.

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