Commercial

Lessons in Resiliency

We must make the Texas Gulf Coast — and indeed the entire state — more resilient and bet­ter able to with­stand future dis­as­ters, whether the threat comes from hur­ri­canes, tor­na­does, wild­fires, flood­ing or oth­er dis­as­ters, a process Gov­er­nor Abbott has called future-proof­ing” our state.”
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Eye of the Storm, Report of the Governor’s Commission to Rebuild Texas

Each spring, busi­ness own­ers and home­own­ers along the Texas Gulf Coast fill with trep­i­da­tion when they think about the next big hur­ri­cane. As devel­op­ment becomes more dense in the coastal region, the cost of rebuild­ing after a storm event becomes more expen­sive. Around 40 per­cent of small busi­ness­es nev­er reopen after a dis­as­ter and anoth­er 25 per­cent that do reopen fail with­in one year, accord­ing to FEMA. Insur­ance becomes increas­ing­ly cost­ly to main­tain, leav­ing many elect­ing to go unin­sured. But also ask those affect­ed by Hur­ri­cane Har­vey how long they wait­ed to receive com­pen­sa­tion, if it came in time to save their busi­ness, or if it was enough to bring them back from the brink of bank­rupt­cy.

Hurricane Harvey’s Impact

Accord­ing to the 2019 Nation­al Build­ing Code Assess­ment Report, loss­es totaled $65 to $75 bil­lion from Hur­ri­cane Har­vey, with a mere $10 bil­lion cov­ered by pri­vate insur­ance. Once the Nation­al Flood Insur­ance Pro­gram (NFIP) is fac­tored in, there were tens of bil­lions of unin­sured loss­es. And that amount does not even con­sid­er the costs of loss­es incurred by busi­ness­es due to clo­sures and down­time. When prop­er­ties are dam­aged by hur­ri­canes and oth­er nat­ur­al dis­as­ters, most find it is sim­ply impos­si­ble to con­duct busi­ness for months after the event. Down­time dur­ing the rebuild­ing phase, exac­er­bat­ed by the lack of skilled labor after an event, leaves many with­out work and com­pa­nies with no way to keep rev­enue flow­ing.

The real les­son of Hur­ri­cane Har­vey is that we must expect that it will hap­pen again, and when the next hur­ri­cane comes, it will be worse than the last one. The five costli­est hur­ri­canes to strike the Unit­ed States have all occurred with­in the last 15 years. Dur­ing that time­frame, den­si­ty and pop­u­la­tion have risen, mean­ing that there is now over $1 tril­lion prop­er­ty at risk from coastal flood­ing.

Hurricane graph

Current Protections in Place for the Next One

After cat­a­stroph­ic events, busi­ness­es and indi­vid­u­als often look to the gov­ern­ment to help plan and adjust pri­or to the next event. The report of the Governor’s Com­mis­sion to Rebuild Texas, Eye of the Storm, is per­haps the sin­gle great­est effort made to-date to under­stand what hap­pens after a major hur­ri­cane and its impact on a region. The report is filled with recov­ery response rec­om­men­da­tions for what gov­ern­ments need to do before, dur­ing and after the event, along with rec­om­men­da­tions for bet­ter flood con­trol and major infra­struc­ture improve­ments. How­ev­er, there is shock­ing­ly lit­tle infor­ma­tion or rec­om­men­da­tions for com­mer­cial prop­er­ty own­ers around proac­tive steps that can be tak­en to lim­it and pre-empt the effect of nat­ur­al dis­as­ters.

Cur­rent­ly, the only pro­tec­tion gov­ern­ments offer to those who rebuild comes from build­ing codes and their enforce­ment. Many point out the suc­cess of improved codes and enforce­ments that are now in place in Flori­da after Hur­ri­cane Andrew. Most struc­tures must now be built to with­stand the winds that are asso­ci­at­ed with hur­ri­canes. Most of the codes used are focused on the pro­tec­tion of life with­in a struc­ture, mean­ing that you are safe inside one dur­ing the event.

How­ev­er, after sur­viv­ing the event, the codes have lit­tle to say about how easy it is for the prop­er­ty to remain hab­it­able or recov­er quick­ly after an event. For a busi­ness or com­mer­cial prop­er­ty own­er, get­ting up and run­ning quick­ly is as impor­tant as sur­viv­ing the ini­tial nat­ur­al dis­as­ter. Build­ing codes are sim­ply not equipped to con­sid­er the long view of recov­ery. We need to do more than assume codes are enough to pre­pare us for the next big storm.

Resiliency: The Capacity to Recover Quickly

There is much talk in the build­ing indus­try about sus­tain­abil­i­ty and the avoid­ance of the deple­tion of nat­ur­al resources to main­tain an eco­log­i­cal bal­ance. Through sus­tain­abil­i­ty, there is a con­cen­trat­ed effort to reduce the impact that humans have on the envi­ron­ment that inten­si­fy events like Har­vey.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, true sus­tain­abil­i­ty will take a gen­er­a­tion or two, or three to achieve. So, what do we do in the mean­time?

We need to increase our cur­rent dis­course to include resilien­cy, which is the capac­i­ty to recov­er quick­ly from dif­fi­cul­ties. Accord­ing to Neil Spec­tor, Pres­i­dent of ISO Under­writ­ing, Resilience has gone from a post-event dis­cus­sion to a glob­al move­ment call­ing for bet­ter prepa­ra­tion before the next dis­as­ter occurs — and bet­ter response when it does.”

The Resilient Design Insti­tute states that: Resilien­cy is not any sin­gle solu­tion, con­cept or per­spec­tive. Resilien­cy is a mul­ti­fac­eted lens which bal­ances proac­tiv­i­ty and reac­tiv­i­ty to inform solu­tions to dis­rup­tions. Resilient design is tak­ing that lens and using it to rethink the built envi­ron­ment.” Thus, resilient design is a dis­rup­tive process that will change your per­spec­tive when it comes time to deter­mine the con­struc­tion means and meth­ods for your build­ing. When you think of stan­dard wood or steel framed con­struc­tion, and what hap­pens to them when water intrudes and the air con­di­tion­ing fails, you can under­stand the need to rethink the very con­struc­tion sys­tems that have been devel­oped to-date.

Resilient design­ers begin with the effects of a nat­ur­al dis­as­ter and look to address them specif­i­cal­ly through the selec­tion of build­ing sys­tems. Resilient build­ing sys­tems are designed to with­stand the worst and be up and run­ning very soon after. Imag­ine the relief the next time you evac­u­ate and leave your busi­ness or home know­ing that it would be there when you return, know­ing that your build­ing was designed to lim­it the effects of water and wind, and that any dam­age could be eas­i­ly repaired.

It’s the best insur­ance that you can buy, and it does not rely on oth­ers to pro­vide the time­ly assis­tance so des­per­ate­ly need­ed to keep a busi­ness run­ning after Moth­er Nature sends us her worst.

Resilient Building System Selection

When plan­ning a com­mer­cial project in a dis­as­ter-prone area, it’s impor­tant to step back and think of the project in reverse. Begin by review­ing all the dam­age seen from Hur­ri­cane Har­vey.

Think of all the water lines on the exte­ri­or of build­ings, the pho­tos of dry­wall stripped off the low­er por­tions of inte­ri­or walls, and all the moldy insu­la­tion and water-logged mate­ri­als that cre­at­ed a mas­sive debris field that had to be cleared. Every­thing that end­ed up on the curb is the result of a non-resilient build­ing sys­tem. Steel and wood-framed build­ings built to code may have sur­vived the storm, but those build­ings had to be gut­ted and were unin­hab­it­able for months after being flood­ed.

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Next, imag­ine a wall that can regain its func­tion­al­i­ty faster when faced with a sig­nif­i­cant weath­er event or nat­ur­al dis­as­ter. Imag­ine a wall that is designed to with­stand high winds in storm zones and will be there after the storm so that you know it’s safe to return. Imag­ine a wall that meets and exceeds industry’s stan­dard for fire resis­tance with a four-hour fire rat­ing. Imag­ine a wall where there are no voids for mold and mildew to grow. Imag­ine a wall that is so well insu­lat­ed that you could run the A/C off a small gen­er­a­tor and dry out the space overnight.

Then, imag­ine that this resilient tech­nol­o­gy to cre­ate a mass-pro­duced wall sys­tem exists today, and it is no more expen­sive than the stan­dard con­struc­tion that we are try­ing to replace.

If you do that, you will have imag­ined the Bau­tex Wall Sys­tem.

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The Bau­tex Wall Sys­tem is ide­al for any resilient struc­ture that is at risk to flood­ing, wild­fires or is in the path of a hur­ri­cane or tor­na­do. With an abuse-resis­tant stuc­co exte­ri­or, a flu­id applied air & mois­ture bar­ri­er, and an inte­ri­or applied plas­ter fin­ish, the Bau­tex Wall Sys­tem meets the def­i­n­i­tion of a ful­ly resilient build­ing sys­tem.

Making the Commitment to Resilient Design

Resilient plan­ning, design, and con­struc­tion is a nec­es­sary evo­lu­tion in the way we need to rebuild. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, most of the build­ing sys­tems that we use today are engrained and are resis­tant to change. It is dif­fi­cult to imag­ine a typ­i­cal wood-framed wall con­struc­tion evolv­ing to be flood proof. Thus, the change needs to come from new­er mate­ri­als and new­er tech­niques that can be dis­rup­tive to what we have learned over the years. How­ev­er, mak­ing the com­mit­ment to resilient design will lib­er­ate your think­ing and improve your piece of mind the next time an event hits.

The design­ers of the Sea Star Base Galve­ston build­ing made that com­mit­ment. Due to its loca­tion on the Texas Coast, the design­ers need­ed a struc­ture that could stand up to hur­ri­cane-force storms for both the safe­ty of the occu­pants and to min­i­mize storm dam­age. They turned to Bau­tex Block because it ful­filled their resilient design cri­te­ria, lib­er­at­ing them from the con­ven­tion­al hand­cuffs asso­ci­at­ed with stan­dard con­struc­tion prac­tices. And when Har­vey hit, they were ready.