Definition of Resilience: Hospital Provides a Lesson in Preparing for Weather Events

Staten Island University Hospital escaped major damage during Hurricane Sandy. The city of New York allocated $28 million to fund the hospital’s resiliency plan, and the state contributed an additional $12 million.

Staten Island University Hospital escaped major damage during Hurricane Sandy. The city of New York allocated $28 million to fund the hospital’s resiliency plan, and the state contributed an additional $12 million.

Almost five years ago, Hurricane Sandy bore down on New York City with winds that reached gusts of 100 miles an hour and a storm surge 16 feet above normal that flooded huge parts of the city. Entire neighborhoods lost electricity for several days, the Stock Exchange closed during and immediately after the storm, and scuba divers were called in to assess damage in parts of the city’s submerged subway system.

Staten Island, one of New York’s five boroughs, was heavily damaged. Its position in New York Harbor, at the intersection of the coastlines of Long Island and New Jersey, leaves the island particularly exposed to storm surge during extreme weather events. A geologist from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts described Staten Island as being, “at the end of, basically, a big funnel between New Jersey and New York.”

Staten Island University Hospital almost miraculously escaped major damage, despite flood waters coming within inches of it doors. The hospital stayed open during and after Hurricane Sandy, continuing to provide vital services despite the storm. The hospital is home to the largest emergency room on Staten Island, and houses more than one third of the borough’s in-patient beds. New York Mayor DeBlasio has called the hospital, “a truly decisive healthcare facility—even more so in times of crisis.”

While both hospital and city officials were relieved that the facility had escaped Sandy largely unharmed, the lesson that Sandy delivered was taken to heart: major mitigation efforts were needed if the hospital expected to survive similar storms in the future. With this in mind, the city of New York allocated $28 million to fund the hospital’s resiliency plan, with the state kicking in an additional $12 million.

The money is being spent on three major projects to better prepare the hospital for future storms: the elevation of critical building power and mechanical systems, the installation of sanitary holding tanks and backflow prevention, and the installation of major wind resiliency and roofing improvements. 

Resilient Design

The Staten Island experience, and the plan to upgrade its ability to withstand major weather events, is hardly unique. Nationwide, resilient design has become a major focus of the construction community.

Hurricane Sandy certainly intensified the sense of urgency surrounding the need for resilience. But well before that, Hurricane Katrina, in 2005, provided a tragic case study on the fragility of seemingly stable structures, as the storm brought a small, poor southern city to the brink of chaos and devastated entire neighborhoods. While these two hurricanes drew national and international attention, communities throughout the country have also been dealing with frequent, erratic and intense weather events that disrupted daily life, resulting in economic losses and, all too often, the loss of human life. These emergencies may include catastrophic natural disasters, such as hurricanes, earthquakes, sinkholes, fires, floods, tornadoes, hailstorms, and volcanic activity. They also refer to man-made events such as acts of terrorism, release of radioactive materials or other toxic waste, wildfires and hazardous material spills.

The focus, to a certain degree, is on upgrading structures that have been damaged in natural disasters. But even more, architects and building owners are focusing on building resilience into the fabric of a structure to mitigate the impact of future devastating weather events. And, as with the Staten Island Hospital, the roof is getting new attention as an important component of a truly resilient structure.

The resilience of the roofing system is a critical component in helping a building withstand a storm and rebound quickly. In addition, a robust roofing system can help maintain a habitable temperature in a building in case of loss of power. Photo: Hutchinson Design Group.

The resilience of the roofing system is a critical component in helping a building withstand a storm and rebound quickly. In addition, a robust roofing system can help maintain a habitable temperature in a building in case of loss of power. Photo: Hutchinson Design Group.

So, what is resilience, how is it defined, and why is it important to buildings in differing climates facing unique weather events? The Department of Homeland Security defines resilience as “the ability to adapt to changing conditions and withstand and rapidly recover from disruption due to emergencies.” The key words here are “adapt” and “rapidly recover.” In other words, resilience is measured in a structure’s ability to quickly return to normal after a damaging event. And the resilience of the roofing system, an essential element in protecting the integrity of a building, is a critical component in rebounding quickly. In addition, a robust roofing system can provide a critical evacuation path in an emergency, and can help maintain a habitable temperature in a building in case of loss of power.

According to a Resilience Task Force convened by the EPDM Roofing Association (ERA), two factors determine the resiliency of a roofing system: durable components and a robust design. Durable components are characterized by:
Outstanding weathering characteristics in all climates (UV resistance, and the ability to withstand extreme heat and cold).

  • Ease of maintenance and repair.
  • Excellent impact resistance.
  • Ability to withstand moderate movement cycles without fatigue.
  • Good fire resistance (low combustibility) and basic chemical resistance.
  • A robust design that will enhance the resiliency of a roofing system should incorporate:

  • Redundancy in the form of a backup system and/or waterproofing layer.
  • The ability to resist extreme weather events, climate change or change in building use.
  • Excellent wind uplift resistance, but most importantly multiple cycling to the limits of its adhesion.
  • Easily repaired with common tools and readily accessible materials.
  • More Information on Resilient Roofing

    The Resilience Task Force, working with the ERA staff, is also responding to the heightened interest in and concern over the resilience of the built environment by launching EpdmTheResilientRoof.org. The new website adds context to the information about EPDM products by providing a clearinghouse of sources about resilience, as well as an up-to-date roster of recent articles, blog posts, statements of professional organizations and other pertinent information about resilience.

    “This new website takes our commitment to the construction industry and to our customers to a new level. Our mission is to provide up-to-date science-based information about our products. Resilience is an emerging need, and we want to be the go-to source for architects, specifiers, building owners and contractors who want to ensure that their construction can withstand extreme events,” said Mike DuCharme, Chairman of ERA.

    EPDM roofs can be easily repaired and restored without the use of sophisticated, complicated equipment. Photo: Hutchinson Design Group.

    EPDM roofs can be easily repaired and restored without the use of sophisticated, complicated equipment. Photo: Hutchinson Design Group.

    EPDM and Resiliency

    The Resilience Task Force also conducted extensive fact finding to itemize the specific attributes of EPDM membrane that make it a uniquely valuable component of a resilient of a roofing system:

  • EPDM is a thermoset material with an inherit ability to recover and return to its original shape and performance after a severe weather event.
  • EPDM has been used in numerous projects in various geographic areas from the hottest climate in the Middle East to the freezing temperatures in Antarctica and Siberia.
  • After decades of exposures to extreme environmental conditions, EPDM membrane continues to exhibit a great ability to retain the physical properties and performances of ASTM specification standards.
  • EPDM is the only commercially available membrane that performs in an unreinforced state, making it very forgiving to large amounts of movement without damage and potentially more cycles before fatiguing.
  • EPDM offers excellent impact resistance to hail, particularly when aged.
  • EPDM is resistant to extreme UV exposure and heat.
  • EPDM far exceeded the test protocol ASTM D573 which requires materials to pass four weeks at 240 degrees Fahrenheit. EPDM black or white membranes passed 68 weeks at these high temperatures.
  • Exposed EPDM roof systems have been in service now for 50-plus years with little or no surface degradation.
  • EPDM is versatile.
  • EPDM can be configured in many roofing assemblies, including below-grade and between-slab applications.
  • EPDM is compatible with a broad range of construction materials/interfaces/conditions, making it a good choice for areas that may encounter unique challenges.
  • EPDM can be exposed to moisture and intense sunlight or totally immersed in salty water.
  • EPDM can easily be installed, repaired and restored following simple procedures without the use of sophisticated, complicated equipment.
  • EPDM can be repaired during power outages.
  • For further information about the need for resilience, and the appropriate use of EPDM in resilient structures, visit EPDMTheResilientRoof.com.

    The Building Industry Is Working to Reduce Long-term Costs and Limit Disruptions of Extreme Events

    “Resilience is the ability to prepare for and adapt to changing conditions and to withstand and recover rapidly from deliberate attacks, accidents, or naturally occurring threats or incidents.” —White House Presidential Policy Directive on Critical Infrastructure Security and Resilience

    In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina made landfall in the Gulf Coast as a category 3 storm. Insured losses topped $41 billion, the costliest U.S. catastrophe in the history of the industry. Studies following the storm indicated that lax enforcement of building codes had significantly increased the number and severity of claims and structural losses. Researchers at Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, found that if stronger building codes had been in place, wind damages from Hurricane Katrina would have been reduced by a staggering 80 percent. With one storm, resiliency went from a post-event adjective to a global movement calling for better preparation, response and recovery—not if but when the next major disaster strikes.

    CHALLENGES OF AN AGING INFRASTRUCTURE

    We can all agree that the U.S. building stock and infrastructure are old and woefully unprepared for climatic events, which will occur in the years ahead. Moving forward, engineering has to be more focused on risk management; historical weather patterns don’t matter because the past is no longer a reliable map for future building-code requirements. On community-wide and building-specific levels, conscientious groups are creating plans to deal with robust weather, climatic events and national security threats through changing codes and standards to improve their capacity to withstand, absorb and recover from stress.

    Improvements to infrastructure resiliency, whether they are called risk-management strategies, extreme-weather preparedness or climate-change adaptation, can help a region bounce back quickly from the next storm at considerably less cost. Two years ago, leading groups in America’s design and construction industry issued an Industry Statement on Resiliency, which stated: “We recognize that natural and manmade hazards pose an increasing threat to the safety of the public and the vitality of our nation. Aging infrastructure and disasters result in unacceptable losses of life and property, straining our nation’s ability to respond in a timely and efficient manner. We further recognize that contemporary planning, building materials, and design, construction and operational techniques can make our communities more resilient to these threats.”

    With these principles in mind, there has been a coordinated effort to revolutionize building standards to respond to higher demands.

    STRENGTHENING BUILDING STANDARDS

    Resiliency begins with ensuring that buildings are constructed and renovated in accordance with modern building codes and designed to evolve with change in the built and natural environment. In addition to protecting the lives of occupants, buildings that are designed for resilience can rapidly re-cover from a disruptive event, allowing continuity of operations that can liter- ally save lives.

    Disasters are expensive to respond to, but much of the destruction can be prevented with cost-effective mitigation features and advanced planning. A 2005 study funded by the Washington, D.C.-based Federal Emergency Management Agency and conducted by the Washington-based National Institute of Building Sciences’ Multi-hazard Mitigation Council found that every dollar spent on mitigation would save $4 in losses. Improved building-code requirements during the past decade have been the single, unifying force in driving high-performing and more resilient building envelopes, especially in states that have taken the initiative to extend these requirements to existing buildings.

    MITIGATION IS COST-EFFECTIVE IN THE LONG TERM

    In California, there is an oft-repeated saying that “earthquakes don’t kill people, buildings do.” Second only to Alaska in frequency of earthquakes and with a much higher population density, California has made seismic-code upgrades a priority, even in the face of financial constraints. Last year, Los Angeles passed an ambitious bill requiring 15,000 buildings and homes to be retrofitted to meet modern codes. Without the changes, a major earth- quake could seriously damage the city’s economic viability: Large swaths of housing could be destroyed, commercial areas could become uninhabitable and the city would face an uphill battle to regain its economic footing. As L.A. City Councilman Gil Cedillo said, “Why are we waiting for an earthquake and then committed to spending billions of dollars, when we can spend millions of dollars before the earthquake, avoid the trauma, avoid the loss of afford- able housing and do so in a preemptive manner that costs us less?”

    This preemptive strategy has been adopted in response to other threats, as well. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Princeton University, Princeton, N.J., emerged as a national example of electrical resilience with its microgrid, an efficient on-campus power-generation and -delivery network that draws electricity from a gas-turbine generator and solar-panel field. When the New Jersey utility grid went down in the storm, police, firefighters, paramedics and other emergency-services workers used Princeton University as a staging ground and charging station for phones and equipment. It also served as a haven for local residents whose homes lost power. Even absent a major storm, the system provides cost efficiency, reduced environmental impact and the opportunity to use renewable energy, making the initial investment a smart one.

    ROOFING STANDARDS ADAPT TO MEET DEMANDS

    Many of today’s sustainable roofing standards were developed in response to severe weather events. Wind-design standards across the U.S. were bolstered after Hurricane Andrew in 1992 with minimum design wind speeds rising by 30-plus mph. Coastal jurisdictions, such as Miami-Dade County, went even further with the development of wind- borne debris standards and enhanced uplift design testing. Severe heat waves and brown-outs, such as the Chicago Heat Wave of 1995, prompted that city to require cool roofs on the city’s buildings.

    Hurricane Sandy fostered innovation by demonstrating that when buildings are isolated from the supply of fresh water and electricity, roofs could serve an important role in keeping building occupants safe and secure. Locating power and water sources on rooftops would have maintained emergency lighting and water supplies when storm surges threatened systems located in basement utility areas. Thermally efficient roofs could have helped keep buildings more habitable until heating and cooling plants were put back into service.

    In response to these changes, there are many opportunities for industry growth and adaptation. Roof designs must continue to evolve to accommodate the increasing presence of solar panels, small wind turbines and electrical equipment moved from basements, in addition to increasing snow and water loads on top of buildings. Potential energy disruptions demand greater insulation and window performance to create a habitable interior environment in the critical early hours and days after a climate event. Roofing product manufacturers will work more closely with the contractor community to ensure that roofing installation practices maximize product performance and that products are tested appropriately for in-situ behavior.

    AVERTING FUTURE DISASTERS THROUGH PROACTIVE DESIGN

    Rather than trying to do the minimum possible to meet requirements, building practitioners are “thinking beyond the code” to design structures built not just to withstand but to thrive in extreme circumstances. The Tampa, Fla.-based Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety has developed an enhanced set of engineering and building standards called FORTIFIED Home, which are designed to help strengthen new and existing homes through system-specific building upgrades to reduce damage from specific natural hazards. Research on roofing materials is ongoing to find systems rigorous enough to withstand hail, UV radiation, temperature fluctuations and wind uplift. New techniques to improve roof installation quality and performance will require more training for roofing contractors and more engagement by manufacturers on the installation of their products to optimize value.

    Confronted with growing exposure to disruptive events, the building industry is working cooperatively to meet the challenge of designing solutions that provide superior performance in changing circumstances to reduce long-term costs and limit disruptions. Achieving such integration requires active collaboration among building team members to improve the design process and incorporate new materials and technologies, resulting in high-performing structures that are durable, cost- and resource-efficient, and resilient so when the next disruptive event hits, our buildings and occupants will be ready.

    The Roofing Industry Seeks to Protect Buildings from Storms

    I used to love storms. I was never one to cower at the sound of thunder. I often found storms a good excuse to turn off the TV and lights, open the blinds and marvel at the sheer power of nature. If you read my January/February “Raise the Roof”, however, you know I have had a love-hate relationship with rain since moving in with my husband (we married in August 2015). I found myself awake on rainy nights, counting the seconds between pumps of our sump
    pump. If less than 20 seconds passed, I knew the basement was flooding and dreaded the morning’s cleanup. (I work from home and my office is in the basement.)

    In March, a waterproofing company spent two days installing its patented drain- age system and a new sump pump inside our basement. We monitored the system throughout the month of April, which was rainy, to ensure there were no leaks in the system. It worked like a charm! During April, we also hired contractors to create my new home office, a guestroom and walk-in closet within the basement. So far, we have new windows, lighting and insulation; the contractors are finishing up drywall and ceiling installation as I type.

    I know what it’s like when you can’t trust your house to weather a storm. There’s nothing worse than feeling powerless, and seeing your belongings destroyed is gut-wrenching. As the nation braces against another summer of intense weather, it’s comforting to know the construction industry—specifically roofing—is researching and innovating to protect people’s homes and businesses from Mother Nature’s wrath.

    For example, in “Business Sense”, Jared O. Blum, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Polyisocyanurate Insulation Manufacturers Association, writes about initiatives to improve the resiliency of our building stock and infrastructure through codes, standards and proactive design.

    The Clinton, Ohio-based Roofing Industry Committee on Weather Issues Inc., better known as RICOWI, recently sent 30 researchers to the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex after an April hailstorm. According to Joan Cook, RICOWI’s executive director, the 10 teams of three inspected 3 million square feet of low and steep-slope roofing during the investigation. The teams’ findings will result in a report to help the industry better understand what causes roofs to perform or fail in severe hail events, leading to overall improvements in roof system durability. Learn how RICOWI mobilizes and studies roofs in “Special Report”.

    There are many other stories within this issue about roof systems working along- side other building components to create durable, sustainable and energy-efficient buildings. Humans have a long history of innovating and evolving to meet the needs of their current situation. I have no doubt that in my lifetime our buildings will be built to withstand nearly any catastrophic event. Meanwhile, I’m happy to report we received 4 1/2 inches of rain in three hours last week and our basement remained bone dry. Thanks to innovations in basement waterproofing, I may start to enjoy storms just a bit again!