Hazards Shouldn’t Lead to Disasters: NIST Releases New Community Resilience Planning Guide

WASHINGTON, D.C. – October 30, 2015 – (RealEstateRama) — The U.S. Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) today issued the Community Resilience Planning Guide for Buildings and Infrastructure Systems to help U.S. communities better withstand and rebound from the shocks of severe weather, earthquakes and other hazards.

Issued on the third anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, which killed 157 people in the United States and wreaked havoc and destruction from Maine to North Carolina, the new planning guide is aimed at community leaders in both the public and private sectors. It lays out a practical six-step process that communities can follow to develop resilience plans to help them prepare for hazards, adapt to changing conditions and withstand and rapidly recover from disruptions.

“Given the breadth of impact extreme weather is having on American lives and commerce, it is clear that we have to do more to mitigate its effects,” said U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker. “Improving local resilience efforts are a challenge that every city should address, and this planning guide can assist communities in developing preparedness plans to prevent hazards from becoming disasters.”

Tailored to the particular goals, hazards, needs and resources of individual communities, these plans will help governments, utilities, service providers and other organizations set priorities and allocate resources for mitigating, maintaining vital services, and if a hazard does strike, building back better.

Cited in the President’s Climate Action Plan, the voluntary guide was developed by NIST, working closely with a variety of specialists from multiple levels of communities and government agencies, service providers and research institutions.

Encompassing social, engineering and public safety perspectives, resilience planning can help communities prevent hazards from becoming disasters. The new guide emphasizes ways to minimize disruption and enable efficient recovery, from short to long-term. A key goal is to avoid extended periods without services, long delays in resuming community functions and daily living activities, and protracted rebuilding efforts, which can collectively impose a crippling toll on residents, businesses and government.

Since 2000, about 900 major disaster declarations have been issued in the United States, including 102 that caused at least $1 billion in damages. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), about half of natural disaster events trigger some form of federal assistance.

In addressing the how of resilience, the guide can also help communities to unify public and private efforts that affect resilience.

“Resilience planning is not a stand-alone activity,” explains Therese McAllister, leader of NIST’s community resilience program. “Resilience goals should be aligned with community priorities and resources, and integrated into emergency response, economic development, zoning and other local planning activities.”

The guide focuses on the performance of buildings and infrastructure systems—energy, communications, transportation, drinking water and wastewater. This “built environment” is evaluated in terms of how it supports social and economic services and functions before and after a flood, hurricane or other hazard strikes a community. After setting desired performance levels for its built environment during and after an anticipated hazard event, the community can assess the gaps that must be bridged to achieve these performance goals.

The recommended six-step process starts with the formation of a resilience team drawn from the community and its stakeholders and culminates with the development, approval and implementation of resilience strategies that are updated regularly.

Evidence suggests that the built environment in many communities may fall short of expectations for even routine and expected hazards. Many Presidential Disaster Declarations since 2000 were issued for hazard events that did not exceed the levels buildings and structures were designed and constructed to withstand. Poor performance may have been the result of aging infrastructure (including construction when codes and standards were not as stringent as they are today), dependencies between physical systems, poor siting or lack of maintenance.

The planning guide is part of NIST’s efforts to improve the resilience of U.S. communities and the nation as a whole. In February 2015, it launched the Center of Excellence for Risk-Based Community Resilience Planning, a NIST-funded collaboration involving researchers from 10 universities and based at Colorado State University.

The institute also is initiating the Community Resilience Panel, an organization that will foster stakeholder collaboration on community resilience issues and challenges. The panel’s inaugural meeting will be held Nov. 9, 2015, at NIST’s Gaithersburg, Md., campus and is open to all interested parties. Advance registration is required.

As a non-regulatory agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, NIST promotes U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness by advancing measurement science, standards and technology in ways that enhance economic security and improve our quality of life. To learn more about NIST, visit www.nist.gov.

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