“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.”
- 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.
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.
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.
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.