Updated NIBS Study Proves Mitigation Is a Sound Investment

Table 1. Benefit-cost ratio by hazard and mitigation measure. Courtesy of the National Institute of Building Sciences.

More than a decade ago, the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS), a nonprofit mandated by Congress to improve building process and facility performance, issued a landmark report which changed the conversation about the value of resilience. The 2005 report, Natural Hazard Mitigation Saves, was authored by NIBS’ Multihazard Mitigation Council (MMC), which promotes collaboration to achieve resilience objectives among a broad spectrum of stakeholders. Working from data provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the report found that every $1 of natural hazard mitigation funded by the FEMA between 1993 and 2003 saved the American people an average of $4 in future losses. That one to four ratio of investment to returns was widely quoted at the time that the report was published, and has been cited repeatedly during the past decade as interest in resilience grown. This report was among the first to demonstrate that investment in mitigation could deliver significant returns.

During the intervening years, as the frequency and severity of natural disasters has intensified, MMC leadership recognized the need to update and expand the 2005 study. Philip Schneider, AIA, Director of the MMC, explains that the “disaster landscape” has changed since 2005, necessitating a new report. “Our hazard maps, particularly, for earthquake and wind, have had several updates based on more research and better data. Our codes and standards are much improved for creating disaster resistance than they were over ten years ago. Our exposure to disasters, especially, building in disaster-prone areas, has increased substantially. We also have better methods for determining vulnerability to disasters than we had then, and more sophisticated economic analysis tools.’’ In fact, as part of the changed “disaster landscape” that Schneider references, 2017 set unwelcome records related to climate and weather events. According to a report released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in early January, the U.S. experienced 16 separate billion-dollar disaster events, matching 2011 for the record number of billion-dollar disasters for an entire calendar year. Together, these events cost the country more than $300 billion dollars, a new annual record for the United States. While this data was released after the publication of the MMC report, it underscores the urgent need to lessen the financial impact of these increasingly frequent disasters.

Figure 1. Total costs and benefits of 23 years of federal mitigation grants. Courtesy of the National Institute of Building Sciences.

After a year-long effort, the MMC released its updated report in January of this year. Natural Hazard Mitigation Saves: 2017 Interim Report examined two specific mitigation strategies and found that mitigation is of even greater value now than it was when the first report was released. First, based on updated data on the impact of FEMA grants, the report stated that society now saves $6 for every $1 spent on mitigation. Looking at a second mitigation strategy, the report found a corresponding “benefit-cost” ratio of four to one for spending that exceeded select provisions of the 2015 International Code Council building codes. In summarizing its findings for both strategies, the MMC stated that, “Mitigation represents a sound financial investment.” (For the purposes of this study mitigation and resilience have similar meanings. Schneider says, “For both terms there is no one universal definition; they both are broadly defined with considerable overlap. However, resilience tends to be more community-based, taking into account a wider range of infrastructure, economic, environmental and social issues. Mitigation tends to be more building centric, but still can pertain to a subset or even the same set of wider range issues.”)

The report points out that while mitigation strategies deliver financial rewards, they would also provide other significant benefits. Implementing the two sets of mitigation strategies detailed in the report “would prevent 600 deaths, 1 million nonfatal injuries and 4,000 new cases of post-traumatic stress disorder in the long term.” Additionally, the report projects that designing new buildings to exceed the model ICC building codes would help fuel economic growth, “resulting in 87,000 new, long-term jobs, and an approximate 1 percent increase in utilization of domestically produced construction material.”

Natural Disasters

The report specifically looked at four potentially cataclysmic natural forces: hurricane winds, earthquakes, riverine floods and hurricane surges. Then they looked at five stakeholder groups that would bear the costs and enjoy the benefits of mitigation for the four natural hazards under consideration. These stakeholder groups are:

  1. Developers: corporations that invest in and build new buildings, and usually sell those buildings once they are completed, owning them only for months or a few years
  2. Title holders: people or corporations who own existing buildings, generally buying them from developers or prior owners
  3. Lenders: people or corporations that lend a title holder the money to buy a building
  4. Tenants: people or corporations who occupy the building, whether they own it or not
  5. Community: people, corporations, local government, emergency service providers, and everyone else associated with the building or who does business with the tenant

Figure 2. Total costs and benefits of new design to exceed 2015 I-Code requirements. Courtesy of the National Institute of Building Sciences.

The study reports that when the cost each group bears to mitigate a loss is subtracted from the positive benefits it enjoys, the “net benefit” is positive in each category. In other words, the value of investing in mitigation is spread broadly across the construction business and the people it serves.

The authors of the report are careful to point out that the cited benefit-cost ratios, or BCRs, are generated from two very specific mitigation strategies: those used by FEMA, and those incorporating designs that exceed provisions of ICC codes. Noting that the results from the 2005 study represented only a single, very narrow set of strategies but were incorrectly used to justify “all types of mitigation strategies,” the authors of the study specifically say that they did not provide an aggregate number in the updated study, but elected to provide BCRs for the two strategies individually. Moving forward, providing an aggregate number is definitely one of their goals: “Once the project team has identified BCRs for a sufficient number of mitigation strategies, it will provide an aggregated number representing the overall benefit of mitigation.” To help achieve that goal, multiple studies are being conducted by the MCC to examine the value of many kinds of natural hazard mitigation at the national level, and more studies are being planned, pending the acquisition of funding.

Focusing on the Roof

What do the results of this study mean for those who focus on the integrity of a roofing system to help create a resilient structure? Schneider underscores the importance of a resilient roof as a component of an overall mitigation strategy. “If the roofing system is compromised in either a windstorm or wildfire, the building or home is subject to total loss.” He also observes that achieving resilience, either in an entire community or in an individual structure, will be a combined effort. “Resilience will be best implemented when states and communities develop and effect resilience plans. Communities, particularly, need to address zoning. Codes and standards organizations need to constantly be updating their documents to address resilience, and architects, engineers, developers and contractors should be building to resilience standards. Manufacturers have their part in providing more resilient products and systems.”

The NIBS report is being praised as an important tool to help in decision-making about investment in resilience, and influential stakeholders are supporting its approach. Executive Director Paul Kovacs of the Toronto-based Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction says, “Findings of the 2005 report, that resilience offers a societal payback of $4 for every $1 invested in mitigation, made an extremely important contribution to the argument that building resilience towards natural hazards is not costly in the mid- to long-term and, in fact, offers a solid Return on Investment. The 4:1 ratio became the most commonly cited metric to show that resilience works, that such things as building codes work. The updated study released yesterday puts a finer point on the metrics and continues to offer overwhelming evidence that building resilience is key to avoiding death, injuries, property damage and disruption.”

Mike DuCharme, Chairman of the EPDM Roofing Association (ERA), adds support from the manufacturers’ point of view. “We know that our EPDM products can play an essential role in helping to create more resilient roofing systems. With this new report showing the economic advantages of resilience, we can provide the construction industry with materials that can not only enhance the performance of a resilient roofing system, but also provide financial advantages as well.”

The NIBS report concludes by pointing out that, “Not everyone is willing or able to bear the up-front construction costs for more resilient buildings, even if the long-term benefits exceed the up-front costs,” and suggests that some creative incentives might be needed “to align competing interests of different groups.”

FEMA, the source of the statistics for the NIBS report, is addressing this very issue and has just released its Draft National Mitigation Investment Strategy at the request of the Department of Homeland Security. This strategy is meant to address the lack of coordination in mitigation investment and is organized to achieve these six outcomes:

  1. Coordination of risk mitigation and management improves between and among public, private, and non-profit sector entities.
  2. The private and nonprofit sectors increase their investments in and innovations related to mitigation.
  3. State, local, tribal and territorial governments are increasingly empowered to lead risk reduction activities and share responsibility and accountability with the federal government.
  4. Public, private, and nonprofit sector entities develop and share more of the data and tools needed to make risk-informed mitigation investments.
  5. Public, private, and nonprofit sector entities improve risk communication, leading to more risk-informed mitigation investments by individuals and communities.
  6. The built environment — whether grey or nature-based infrastructure, and including lifeline infrastructure, buildings, and homes — becomes more resilient

This Draft report is now available for comment and FEMA will continue to research the issue before releasing its final recommendations.

This increasing focus on the issue of resilience has moved the debate forward, beyond where it was just a year ago at this time. The question is no longer whether resilience is needed; the daunting statistics of 2017 confirm that cataclysmic weather events are on the increase and can cause staggering damage to the built environment. The NIBS report provides hard evidence that resilience is an investment in the future that will pay dividends for years to come. The debate now moves forward to the best ways to finance these mitigation efforts, so that those future dividends can be realized.

NIBS Releases New Building Information Modeling Guideline

Following a year-long development process, the National Institute of Building Sciences has released its new guideline to help building owners utilize building information modeling (BIM). The “National BIM Guide for Owners (NBGO)” provides building owners with an approach, from their own profession’s standpoint, to create and fulfill BIM requirements for a typical project. Unveiled during the kickoff of Building Innovation 2017, the Guide is now available free online.

The National Institute of Building Sciences, with the support of ASHRAE, Building Owners and Managers Association International (BOMA) and financial support from the U.S. Department of Defense – Defense Health Agency, compiled a balanced, integrated team that has worked for the past year to craft the NBGO. The team developed the guide under the premise that BIM, in and of itself, is not the end but rather the means to a number of potentially valuable project delivery outcomes for the building owner.

The 36-page NBGO addresses three broad areas the owner should understand in order to work effectively with the Project BIM Team: process; infrastructure and standards; and execution.
 
The guide provides building owners with a documented process and procedure for their design teams to follow to produce a standard set of BIM documents during the design and construction of the facility, and for maintenance and operations of the facility upon handoff. Establishing the criteria, specifications and expectations in the design and construction process will help owners capture the full value of investing in BIM, while providing a uniform approach for institutional and commercial building owners to achieve consistent BIM requirements for their facilities.

Thanks go to the NBGO team, including the team’s chair, Dan Chancey, RPA, senior vice president, Asset Management, Cushman & Wakefield, Commercial Advisors; Ernie Conrad, PE, BOMA fellow, representing BOMA International; Carrie Sturts Dossick, PhD, PE, associate professor and executive director, Center for Education and Research in Construction, University of Washington; Craig R. Dubler, PhD, DBIA, manager, Facility Asset Management, Penn State University; Johnny Fortune, CDT, LEED AP, BIM/IT director, Bullock Tice Associates; M. Dennis Knight, PE, FASHRAE, founder & CEO, Whole Building Systems LLC, representing ASHRAE; and John I. Messner, PhD, Charles and Elinor Matts Professor of Architectural Engineering, director, Computer Integrated Construction Research Program, Penn State University.

The new guideline, which is based on a number of foreign, federal, state and local BIM guides that already exist, is geared to a generic facility with uniform requirements for use by a variety of government, institutional and commercial building owners. It references a range of documents and practices, including those contained within the National BIM Standard-United States.

The next step will be to submit the NBGO for publication as an industry standard. Download the NBGO.

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.