The New Normal
A recent article in the New York Times, “The Generator is the Machine of the Moment” talks about changes to building projects to make them more resilient to Hurricane Sandy type storms. The changes are straight forward changes to the building systems, such as moving mechanical systems out of the basement, flood proofing the basements and lower floors, installing generators and pumping systems. Other changes are at the level of developments which look at ways of storing storm water on site in the lower floors and open areas to reduce the impact. This is now the “new normal” because the people using the buildings don’t want to endure the loss of power and disruptions to their lives. They recognize that these types of storms are becoming a fact of life, rather than the “storm of the century”.
Being resilient in terms of buildings and community is recognizing that each community exists in dynamic systems which include water, wind, and movements of earth and sea. As the article points out, if the full dynamism of these natural systems is felt by the inhabitants, they adapt to it. It mentions Venice and Amsterdam in terms of dealing with storms, but California can be included for dealing with earthquakes. California is fortunate in that it has numerous earthquakes When a medium size earthquake happens, dubbed “designer quakes”, they rattle people but don’t do significant damage. This becomes a reminder to step back to check plans and assumptions. They look at their buildings and critical infrastructure such as transportation, energy, water etc and figure out what needs to be strengthened. While they do it, they take into account the really big earthquake into as the basis for their decisions.
Of course, places in California have problems with floods, drought, and winds as well. Being resilient is addressing all of these risks as well. Some of the steps for each of these risks overlap, some don’t. The challenge for each community is to look at balancing these risks and their responses. The need for the “new normal” is that citizens and communities recognize and demand that these risks be addressed in each building, development and community. It is saying that the costs for doing this is borne before the disaster because it costs less money than fixing afterwards. It also saves much heartache and trauma for the people living through it.
The “new normal” from Hurricane Sandy also recognizes that global warming is driving these changes to storms, flooding, and sea level rise. This is where sustainability and resilience cross paths. The focus of sustainability is now global warming and the measure is reducing carbon footprints. Solutions to being resilient also need to be cross checked with efforts for sustainability. Much of it makes perfect sense. Preventing damage or destruction to existing buildings, whether from water, wind, or quake, reduces the need for repair and replacement which have high carbon foot prints for materials and construction. Combining seismic upgrades with adding insulation fit well together since they both take place at the exterior walls of buildings. Adding renewable energy sources to reduce energy consumption, means that buildings can use this energy when the energy grid is damaged. The list goes on.
The new normal is being both resilient and sustainable. In Oregon, we are more aware of sustainability. However, we haven’t started to address the coming effects of floods, winds, and droughts that will be increased due to global warming. Similarly, we have become aware of the Cascadia earthquake and tsunami, but are not aware of how vulnerable we are with respect to the damage and loss of life we will be subject too. We tend to respond to things we have had direct experience with. Buildings are required to be seismically strengthened after earthquakes have occurred. With both global warming and a Cascadia earthquake, we need to prepare for events that science tell us are coming. The examples are out there, Hurricane Sandy and the Tohoku earthquake to name a couple. The new normal needs to include learning from others.