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.