Creating Resilient Building Codes to Respond to Climate Change

Carson P. Kyhl

Posted by Carson P. Kyhl

Stop filling the sandbags….We’re gonna find a better way to manage this thing!

I’m always encouraged to see productive conversation happening at home, in the workplace….and especially with the government authorities that regulate construction activity. There are so many new and more powerful threats that need to be considered in our policy making; therefore, I want to share the Administration’s recent initiative that brings together both public and private programs that are promoting building codes and standards for more resilient and safer buildings.


Creating Resilient Building Codes to Respond to Climate Change

In May 2016, President Obama announced efforts to increase community resilience through Building Codes and Standards. Impacts of climate change, including hotter temperatures, extreme weather, rising sea levels, and severe drought, pose significant challenges for buildings and homes. Building codes, which set the baseline for the safe design and construction of home, schools, and businesses, need to evolve to deal with these new challenges. In this post, we will share the critical role of building codes in furthering community resilience and how two initiatives, the 100 Resilient Cities Initiative and the Federal initiatives for resilient design, aim to mitigate the future impacts of climate change and other socioeconomic factors.

100 Resilient Cities Initiative

Lead by the Rockefeller Foundation, the 100 Resilient Cities (100RC) initiative helps cities around the world become more resilient to challenges including social, economic or physical changes. 100RC incorporates a view of resilience that includes not just weather-related catastrophes like earthquakes, floods, and fires, but also the stresses that weaken a city’s infrastructure over time. Those types of stresses include high unemployment, inefficient public transit, endemic violence, and chronic food or water shortages, among others. By addressing these issues, a city will be able to better respond and overcome adverse events.  

100RC also provides resources for drafting resilience strategies and connecting cities to share best practices. Cities in the 100RC network are provided with resources including:

  • Financial and logistical guidance for establishing a Chief Resilience Officer in each city
  • Support for development of a robust resilience strategy
  • Access to solutions, service providers, and partners from the private, public and NGO sectors
  • Membership of a global network of member cities who can learn from and help each other

New Federal Initiatives Announced to Increase Community Resilience

During the May 2016 White House Conference on Resilient Building Codes, the Administration highlighted Federal and private sector efforts to help increase community resilience through building codes and standards and building design. Below, we highlight some of the most interesting Federal initiatives for community resilience.

Incorporation of Resilient Building Codes into Housing Programs

This initiative, led by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), involves reviewing its existing building construction requirements. The goal is to align the program requirements with the most recent building codes and standards for resilient construction. This action responds to the 2014 Housing and Urban Development Climate Change Adaptation Plan to update building standards to incorporate sustainability and resilience measures.

Disaster Deductible for the Public Assistance Program

This initiative proposes that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) explore incentivizing the adoption and enforcement of building codes at the state and local level through a disaster deductible requirement for the Public Assistance Program. This plan would allow states to earn credits toward their deductible requirement through adoption and enforcement of building codes.

Codes and Standards for Resilience to Tornadoes

The National Institute of Standards and Technology, in coordination with FEMA and other agencies, is developing tornado hazard maps. The maps will help design professionals ensure that future buildings are better equipped to withstand the impacts of high winds and debris.

Resilient Building Codes Resource Website

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers launched a website to promote the latest standards and criteria, building codes, and recent climate science. The website is a single starting point for planners and designers.

Smart Growth Code Fixes for Climate Adaptation Report

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will be releasing a report titled Smart Growth Code Fixes for Climate Adaption in Fall 2016. The report will provide communities with changes they can make to zoning and building codes to prepare for and adapt to climate change.

Implementation Strategy for Increasing Disaster Resilience Through Federal Support for Building Code Adoption and Enforcement

The Mitigation Framework Leadership Group will release the Implementation Strategy for Increasing Disaster Resilience through Federal Support for Building Code Adoption and Enforcement in Fiscal Year 2016. The strategy identifies how Federal departments and agencies can align programs, resources, and coordination efforts for increased resilience through building code adoption and enforcement.

Community Infrastructure Resilience Toolkit

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will release the toolkit in late 2016. The toolkit will help communities develop a Community Infrastructure Resilience Plan to provide actionable guidance for building infrastructure resilience considerations into planning.

Incorporation of Resilient Building Codes into Rural Housing Programs

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development will review its existing building construction requirements to align program requirements with the most recent model building codes and standards for resilient construction.

The Federal initiatives for resilient design are part of a larger pledge to incorporate resilient design across the country. Stay tuned for continued updates on these programs and others. We plan to look more closely at some of the initiatives described here as well as examples of resilient city design that are already in progress. And of course send us any information on others that you find impactful or inspirational. We are all in this together, and each experience that we can share will make us stronger and safer.



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