Immediate occupancy in the aftermath of natural disasters
In May 2017, the U.S. Senate tasked the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) with the development of a research plan for a new immediate occupancy performance objective for commercial and residential buildings for all natural hazards.
Government Relations Regional Manager Susan Dowty with the International Code Council served on the project’s steering committee, which reviewed draft reports and contributed subject matter expertise for a two-day January 2018 workshop. More than 80 participating experts in their fields, including International Code Council Senior Staff Engineer Sandra Hyde, attended the workshop and identified areas of research to improve the resilience of buildings and communities in the face of natural hazards. Dowty and James Rossberg, managing director of Engineering Programs at the American Society of Civil Engineers, presented a session at the workshop, which facilitated the writing of chapter 6 of the report, Adoption and Acceptance Considerations.
The NIST report, Research Needs to Support Immediate Occupancy Building Performance Objective Following Natural Hazard Events (NIST Special Publication 1224), was released last month and provides valuable information about steps to achieve immediate occupancy in the future and addresses four primary topic areas: 1) building design, 2) community considerations, 3) economic and social considerations, and 4) acceptance and adoption considerations. The report indicates that if a decision is made to advance immediate occupancy performance goals, these topics need to be addressed concurrently through cooperative efforts among researchers, engineers, standards and code officials, and community stakeholders to reach the next level of building design and performance.
Building codes have been promulgated for over 100 years to protect the lives of occupants during natural disasters and mitigate property damage. The International Codes, used in all 50 U.S. states and in many other countries, are updated every three years to incorporate innovative technologies and up-to-date methods of construction along with lessons learned from natural disasters. The Code Council is excited to be part of efforts like the NIST report to discuss and enhance the safety of buildings and communities. The code development process serves to incorporate the latest building science into safety and resilience efforts, and the Council looks forward to continuing to work on the local, national and international levels with all concerned parties to improve the building safety environment.
In the words of Steven McCabe, director of the NIST-led, multi-agency National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program and one of the authors of the report, “Our report outlines the steps that could be taken for a big raise of the bar — perhaps the biggest change in building standards and codes in 50 years — but one we believe is possible.”
The codes and standards community is one step closer to raising that bar by knowing the research needs and implementation activities identified in the report. The Code Council encourages review of the report and welcomes any feedback on the immediate occupancy performance objective and its future in codes and standards.