There is nothing like the impact of a natural hazard on an urban community to raise awareness to the vulnerability of our buildings to the forces of nature. It is common, after a hazard event, to hear claims for stronger building codes, better-built houses, and the need to educate all sectors of society on the need to protect our vulnerable communities. Protecting our Vulnerable Communities
Relative to this, few professions have the opportunity for making a significant an effective contribution to the protection of vulnerable communities as does the building-design and construction profession; I am referring to architects, structural engineers, and builders. In this respect, it is important to note however that design professionals must take a hard look at the current approach to the design and construction of buildings in vulnerable communities, for it is clear that some significant changes must take place if we are to avoid seeing a repeat of the same damages with each new impact of recurring hazards.
A good example, to illustrate such need for change in the methodology for buillding design and construction, is derived from considering the impact of climate change on coastal urban communities vulnerable to tropical cyclones. I presented a paper and a poster at a scientific conference, which addressed this exact topic: HANDOUT01162008rvsd
We must stop designing new buildings on the basis of historical data relative to hazard impacts. It is critically important that we assess the future vulnerability of a site and on that basis establish building design criteria, which will characterize future hazard impacts that are likely to take place during the service life of a new building. Think about this, it doesn’t do any good to design a building to resist coastal flooding or storm surge on the basis of flooding data that uses mean sea level of 1929 as a reference point, the correct approach is to determine current mean sea level and then project where sea level will be 30, 50, 75 years from now of for however long we think this specific building will be in service; based on such future projection we could characterize potential impacts from storm surge during future hurricanes, and from this arrive at building design criteria to make the structure resistant to such projected impacts thereby ensuring a reasonable level of protection for life and property and ensuring the continuity of the function and/or services carried out in the specific building. SUMMARY
A new building-design paradigm is needed. Our universities must incorporate relevant knowledge in architectural and engineering curricula, and professional certification boards must require demonstration of pertinent knowledge as a requirement for professional licensing. It is time for architects and engineers to decide that just meeting the minimum requirements of applicable building codes will not cut it when it comes to the design of hazard-resistant buildings, which will stand a chance for performing effectively in protecting life, property and services when impacted by future natural hazards.