Does it feel like hurricanes are striking harder, wildfire season is lasting longer and your news feed is filling up with reports of a different natural disaster almost every week? It’s not just a feeling — it’s a fact. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2020 was a record-breaking year for natural disasters, with the U.S. experiencing 22 separate billion-dollar weather and climate events. The combination of severe storms, tropical cyclones, wildfires and drought cost the nation $95 billion in damages.

What role do construction companies play in helping communities recover from these disasters and reduce these costs? Rebuilding isn’t enough — we need to rebuild for resilience. When the next disaster strikes, our work can play a big role in saving not just structures, dollars and recovery time but also human lives.

Is the idea of rebuilding for resilience new to you? Here’s a quick primer to get you up to speed.


Why are disasters costing more now than yesterday?

Tien Peng, senior vice president of sustainability, codes and standards for the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association, says that the way populations are migrating within the U.S. makes us more susceptible to natural disasters. In other words, we’re putting ourselves more at risk by flocking to the foothills in the West and nearer the water in the South. We’re also concentrating our wealth in urban areas. Both contribute to increased human and property loss during and after natural disasters.

“The reality is, there aren’t actually any natural disasters,” Peng says. “If you and I were not around, it would just be called nature. We’re unprepared and have failed to adapt to our new living environment.”


What does “resilience” really mean?

The Urban Land Institute defines resilience as the ability to prepare and plan for, absorb, recover from and more successfully adapt to adverse events. It’s about addressing changes in the environment, whether human-made or natural, through mitigation. That can involve economic development, environmental sustainability and social wellbeing — all are integral parts of resilience planning to minimize the negative effects of natural disasters.


Are resilience and sustainability the same thing?

No, but they’re related. Sustainability initiatives have focused a lot on carbon reduction and green practices, but that’s not the whole story. And although green buildings continue to be a focus for sustainable design, they’re not the solution for mitigating or recovering from natural disasters — resilience is something different entirely.

“Green buildings are designed to have a low impact on the environment,” says Kevin Reis, executive director of the U.S. Resiliency Council, “but not for the environment to have a low impact on them.”


Is mitigation really worth it?

Absolutely. The National Institute of Building Sciences recently studied the value of building design and construction to mitigate against hazards like flooding, hurricane surge, wind, earthquakes and wildfires. The results showed that for every dollar spent on mitigation measures, the savings ranged from $4-7 depending on the hazard.


How can we build for resilience?

Adopting practices in construction to mitigate the risk of natural disasters means building above code — going beyond to ensure that if or when a disaster strikes, your clients will face a smaller window of recovery time and therefore a smaller window of lost functionality. The U.S. Resiliency Council’s Rating System, which scores buildings from one to five stars based on safety, potential damage and estimated recovery time, is a great place to start.


Doesn't building for resilience cost more?

Yes, there can be added costs — but it can be a cost-effective solution for any project. Reis shared an example of a nine-story affordable housing unit where the added resilience cost was only 0.24% of the total project cost. The building earned a four-star rating from the U.S. Resiliency Council because it should keep vulnerable populations safe in the event of a disaster. There are other benefits for construction companies, too:

  • In some areas, you can earn extra points in RFPs for including designs with U.S. Resiliency Council ratings.
  • Companies who use resilient measures and achieve resiliency ratings may win more bids.
  • More resilient buildings means less insurance risk, which translates into lower loan rates.
  • Every new structure that uses resiliency measures helps increase the resiliency of your community.


The number of natural disasters — and their destructive power — isn’t likely to decrease anytime soon, and no community is immune to the damage they inflict. It’s time for construction to take a leadership role by adding resilience into the way we approach every job.



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