Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Hold Your Buildings to Higher Standards... of Resilient Design

Building codes are modeled to safeguard public health and safety, not necessarily to limit damage or maintain a building’s function after a natural or man-made disaster. As a result, performance based design guidelines have been developed allowing structural engineers to design structures to a certain structural performance objective. This can include reductions in damage, repair costs and/or recovery time. Structures designed to perform to higher than code standards will typically require more materials and incur greater costs associated with design and construction resources (i.e. design time, construction time, and cost associated with both). These structures, however, have the potential to be more resilient during a disaster. The upfront costs associated with these structures can result in large monetary savings in the future. The project team should consider all of the benefits associated with a more resilient structure and decide if those benefits outweigh the upfront costs.

Monetary damages from natural disasters have seen significant increases over the last 5 years (Source: SEI Committee Report). Structural engineers should consider this when making the choice to design to higher standards. There is a vital need for resilient design with more people migrating to the coasts (where natural disaster hazards are greatest), and the economic value of possessions increasing substantially (Source: SEI Committee Report). Spending time and money up front to reduce the likelihood of loss during a natural or man-made disaster can bring significant benefits to owners and communities. These benefits include lowering insurance costs, raising property values, providing security to residents, maintaining a consistent tax base, and minimizing the cost of disaster response and recovery. 

Structural engineers must also take holistic design approaches because the interaction between structural and non-structural systems varies greatly. A system may require larger initial investments in materials and resources, but could have significant savings due to reduced damage of non-structural building components during a natural or man-made disaster, implying lower expected lifetime costs of the building.  

Designing structures for higher standards will typically result in additional upfront costs: both monetary and environmental. These costs should be considered throughout the life cycle of a building, especially for those structures at risk of natural and man-made disasters.  Hazard mitigation techniques typically come with significant benefits, and. implementing resiliency strategies will allow for better protection before and better recovery after an event.    
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