From Risk to Resiliency: These are the Cities That Need to Update Their Construction Approach
Earth is a taxing place to live. With increasingly dangerous weather, population booms, and normal wear and tear all placing demands on buildings, roads and other infrastructure, it’s no surprise that cities exist between various states of degrade and upgrade.
Unfortunately, certain geographic areas are more at risk than others. As we saw from disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, poor planning, combined with aging protective measures, turned an already devastating storm into a real catastrophe. And while the city couldn’t have helped that it was such a large and powerful storm (the sixth strongest to ever form in the Atlantic), the city of New Orleans could have been more prepared.
It would be foolish, moreover, to assume that we’ve seen our last Katrina, Sandy or Harvey. That, combined with the other potential disasters like wildfires and tornados that could strike the U.S.–and the potential fallout that attends them–makes it clear that we need to reduce the risk in our cities as much as possible.
But resilient construction is easier said than done.
Resiliency: An Underrated Construction Value
Design and construction teams have a lot to manage, including budgets, schedules and a large workforce. It requires some juggling, for sure, and most stakeholders aren’t looking to add more to the mix. Nevertheless, one question that doesn’t always get the attention it deserves is how construction teams can build more resiliency into the structures for which they are laying the foundation.
“Weather-related risks are rising throughout the U.S.,” Safe Haven points out. “The yearly average for US extreme weather events costing over $1 billion has shot up from a historic 5.5 events in 2012 to 10.5 events in 2016. The most damaging, well-publicized and expensive events are often storms and floods, but all regions are at risk, whether through extreme heat, wildfire, drought or severe winter storms.”
The news gets worse. As was the case with Katrina, “2017 events–including multiple hurricanes and wildfires–foreshadow increasing harm, fatalities, financial damage, and displaced populations.” It’s not just lives lost or damaged infrastructure, either. Extreme events also shatter economies, making it challenging to achieve former levels of productivity and commerce for years.
So which cities in the U.S. are at particularly high risk for pending weather and natural disasters? We take a look at exactly that below, so check out the SlideShare now.
The Starting Place: Defining Resiliency
To create more resilient cities, we must first define what the word means. Regarding the construction industry, you can think of it as an objective for the design, construction, maintenance and restoration of any building, campus or piece of infrastructure. The goal: to weather disaster of any kind without suffering failure, or ideally much damage at all.
As the Resilient Design Institute explains, “Resilient design is the intentional design of buildings, landscapes, communities and regions in order to respond to natural and manmade disasters and disturbances.” Resiliency is a long-term goal as well, though, taking into account the pressures of drought, heat waves and sea level rise, among others.
Note that while many people associate resilience with sustainability, the two words are not the same. Sustainable and resilient construction do tend to go hand in hand, as buildings we can sustain over long periods of time tend to have resilience baked into their design. However, sustainability is geared more toward longevity without harming the environment. Resiliency is a concept that embraces the ability to bounce back from any challenge.
- Recovery (or Rapid Recovery)
Companies that keep these four key features at the forefront of their design and build efforts are much likelier to lend cities the strength, longevity, flexibility and preparedness that characterize the most resilient in the U.S.–and around the world–today.
Again, easier said than done. Resilient construction doesn’t just happen, and companies don’t just randomly contribute to solving global issues. It takes a great deal of effort, foresight and intelligence on the part of forward-thinking individuals. Some cities have them in spades and are truly prepared. Others should probably take a closer look at factors such as the ones below.
Factors Impacting Construction Resiliency
There are a number of factors affecting resilient construction. The following seven are a combination of external pressures and readiness measurements that, together, determine how ready a city is to face trial and tribulation, should it come their way. Below, read about the factors we used to rank our nine cities in need of more resilient construction.
1. Natural Disaster Prone
The first and foremost item on our list for consideration is that we looked into the natural disaster rating according to WalletHub, which evaluated more than 180 cities across the U.S. This rating explored the total risk of these cities for earthquakes, floods, hail, hurricane storm-surges, tornados and wildfires. All of these natural disaster-prone areas make them particularly risky if construction teams do not build to fortify and protect against these serious natural disasters. For instance, Oklahoma and Kansas are particularly prone to large and damaging tornadoes. Therefore, it’s essential that construction teams do their best to prepare for the worst-case disasters with wind-resistant construction designs.
There is no such thing as resilient construction without taking local weather patterns and risks into account. Cities and states with predictable weather are less at risk for disasters, of course. The cities and areas with more unpredictable weather, which is more likely to cause damage to buildings and other structures that aren’t prepared for it, are naturally more at risk. That, in turn, means they require more resilient construction in the future. That’s why we looked at the cities and metro areas with the most unpredictable weather patterns as part of our evaluation criteria.
3. Infrastructure Conditions
In the U.S., our infrastructure has hardly been classified as resilient. Across the nation, our roads and bridges require serious repairs and maintenance. In addition to causing hazards themselves, poor infrastructure could make disaster-prone areas even more treacherous. Consequently, in our evaluation of the top cities prone to natural disasters, we felt it essential to evaluate the cities based on their infrastructure rating, also according to WalletHub.
4. Road Quality
Roads are one element of infrastructure we think is particularly important to build resilient cities. For obvious reasons, cities simply do not function without their roads. Not only do we need them day to day and during any disaster recovery process, but they’re crucial in times of emergency. In case of a disaster, they are the quickest way a community can leave or relocate–potentially saving hundreds or thousands of lives.
According to TRIP, a national transportation research group, “33% of the nation’s major urban roads are rated in poor condition, providing drivers with a rough ride.” We used their research to benchmark our cities in terms of which had the largest percentage of poor roads, and therefore were the ones least likely to provide safe passage to people in times of catastrophe.
5. Health Systems
Another factor in a city’s resiliency is their health. This includes the health of their residents and the quality and state of their healthcare systems and facilities. If a disaster occurs in a city with poor hospitals, the impact of the event could be magnified. Once again, we turned to WalletHub for their rankings on our cities’ health systems to create our list of which cities need to build with more resilient construction methods in mind.
6. Population Density
There is no resilient construction without taking into account the burden that residents or citizens will place on any given structure or piece of infrastructure. In a disaster-prone area, with poor infrastructure and healthcare, the total impact of any disaster will undoubtedly be greater if the population density is high. Therefore, to make our list, we also looked at the population of the density of our 9 top cities.
7. Community Readiness
Lastly, resilient construction requires a high degree of readiness. After all, you likely know that in any disaster, preparedness is essential to mitigating its negative effects. You probably also know that some cities are more prepared than others to handle catastrophe. This might come in the form of social programs, physical infrastructure (such as the levees New Orleans couldn’t rely on) or protections of natural resources (city water, for instance).
To determine the “readiness” factor of our top natural disaster-prone cities, we referred to a database from the Notre Dame Adaptation Initiative. The cities with the least readiness will need construction teams and governments to step up to meet concerns and bring more awareness to the potential of issues in the near future.
Resilient Construction Isn’t a Task; It’s a Way of Life
In closing, it’s important to remember that resiliency is not a box to check or a project to complete. It is a new way of construction, and beyond that, life. Building resiliency into our cities won’t happen overnight, and that’s okay. In fact, the idea of resilience itself isn’t an overnight phenomenon; it merely means that a system can, given sufficient upfront support and time after the fact, bounce back from any challenge–even if it takes a while.
Given this, it’s important not to place too much pressure on management, teams and individual workers to move from risk to resiliency right up front. Instead, focus on implementing a culture of resilience, as well as its cousin, sustainability. Once it becomes a natural output of each project, it will seem far less daunting, and you’ll have achieved that way of life you’re looking for–and on which our cities are counting.