Climate Resilience in 5 Steps

This is particularly true as the geography of climate emergencies continues to shift, says Robin Guenther, Principal of Perkins+Will, a design firm that contributed the healthcare resilience section of the U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit at toolkit.climate.gov. Hurricane Sandy, a Category 3 storm that reached 115 mph, became the second-costliest hurricane in U.S. history in part because it reached so far up the East Coast. It’s one thing to prepare for more frequent or intense versions of storms that are common in your region – it’s another to prepare for new ones. “The intensity of a Sandy has not really come that far north before, so New York didn’t have infrastructure prepared for a 1,000-year event,” Guenther adds.

More frequent emergencies that hit harder and reach into cities that may not be prepared for them means facility emergency plans must evolve along with the changing climate.

It’s not just about shoring up your building’s physical strength, it’s also about planning for the inevitable cleanup and ensuring business continuity in the interim.

“Hospitals are generally prepared for 96 hours of disruption to utilities because in general, the emergencies that have happened to them so far have been solvable in 96 hours,” explains Guenther. “There are two kinds of problems that climate change creates. There are shocks to the system, which are huge events that happen but then are over, but there are also stressors that strain resources and health over a longer term, like heat waves. If New York experiences 60 days above 90 degrees F. when we used to have 10 days above 90, that’s a stressor. For a hospital, that means more people have breathing problems, more people have heart failure, and more people need cooling centers.  Emergency preparation is not organized to deal with the long-term stressors that climate change introduces.”

1) Understand Your Risks

How can an FM hit this moving target? Start by gaining a solid understanding of the risks your building faces, both in the short term and long term. The U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit is a good place to start. Sources like the National Weather Service, NOAA and the National Climate Assessment will provide some answers on
regional weather risks, suggests Pyke.

Your building’s construction also impacts your unique risks, Pyke continues. Green buildings often take the form of a “well-insulated, well-sealed glass box, which is quite energy-efficient in the short run,” Pyke explains. “But from a resilience perspective, in the event of a power outage, that glass box is going to become uninhabitable much faster than a naturally ventilated building where you can open the windows. Our efforts to be more energy-efficient alone without conditions for resilience may actually make us less resilient.”
In your initial assessment of your climate-related risks, also consider local infrastructure, Guenther suggests.

“The hospitals that were built in New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina were all predicated on the idea that the levees would hold, so when they didn’t hold, the hospitals flooded and were wrecked. When they were rebuilt, they were all designed as if the levees won’t hold,” Guenther says. “A lot of building owners don’t know what their risk is upstream. Try to project what will happen if all of that infrastructure doesn’t work. What are the real flood levels my building could be at, not just the artificial one based on the infrastructure working? What would the water level be if the dam broke?”


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