Climate Resilience in 5 Steps

2) Enlist Help from Other Departments

The facilities department can’t plan for climate resilience alone, so it’s important to enlist allies from the right departments. Other key players include capital planning and insurance executives, as well as the person responsible for tenant relationships in leased buildings, Pyke says.

“Capital planning needs to be involved in terms of the interplay between what the facility needs and where you are in the capital cycle for any asset, as well as thinking about value protection,” Pyke adds. “Insurers are looking at non-stationary risk – the future is different from the past. By preparing for these risks, can your organization receive discounts on insurance coverage? Maintaining continuity of operations is going to be an attractive feature to certain types of tenants, so can your tenant relationship staff sell that as a value point?”

If your organization has a separate department for sustainability, bring them onboard as well – there’s considerable overlap between green building strategies and resilience strategies, Pyke says. Critical buildings like healthcare facilities should also bring clinical leadership on board to determine projected health needs associated with various climate impacts, then work to reduce climate stressors in their communities, Guenther adds.

3) Determine Continuity Requirements

Ideally, your facility won’t have to keep its doors shut for long after an emergency, but a severe storm or a widespread power outage could throw a wrench into those plans.

Figure out your facility’s continuity requirements, then work backwards to determine how to get there. A hospital needs to stay open through an event or reopen immediately after, Guenther explains, whereas a medical office building might aim to reopen within 96 hours to account for disrupted roads and damage preventing people from getting to work.

“The climate toolkit asks questions to help facilities managers be more intentional and to really think about what it means to design a facility that’s capable of reopening within 96 hours,” Guenther says. “What does it need to have? If you’re in a flood plain and you need to reopen within 96 hours, make sure that all your building materials are capable of getting wet, drying out and being OK afterward. Tile floors and walls mean you can go in with a cleaning crew, clean it out and reopen. But if you have drywall and carpet, you’re not going to reopen in 96 hours – that’s a one-month refurbishment where you’ll be cutting out the drywall and changing the flooring.”

Take into account how losing power or water, being subjected to extreme heat or cold, or other region-specific risks could affect your building and your organization’s ability to function.

“Do you understand how your chillers and air conditioning units are going to perform at higher temperatures?” Pyke asks. “One thing we’ve seen in recent heat waves has been higher nighttime temperatures, so buildings don’t have a chance to cool off at night. We have thermal buildup day after day, and after 5 to 10 days, we’ve overwhelmed our cooling capacity and can’t cool off the building. Do you have an operating plan for introducing additional forms of cooling?”

4) Assess Existing Infrastructure

Develop a rubric to determine how your building’s physical infrastructure will hold up against various climate risks. If your facility is required to conduct a hazard vulnerability analysis, the information you gather for that process can aid your resilience planning. You can also work through the steps in the U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit, which includes a healthcare-specific checklist as well as a spreadsheet for all building types.

Insurance providers can likely help with this part of the process – ask them to conduct a comprehensive policy review to see what your insurance covers and react accordingly. For example, lightning strikes may not be covered, so it might be worth the money to install lightning protection on your building, Sullivan suggests.

If you outsource any of your maintenance, bring in those contractors and ask them to develop a regular maintenance schedule for emergency systems if you don’t already have one. “If you’ve got a central system in the building, how often are you testing your sump pumps?” Sullivan asks. “They’ll give you a maintenance plan that you can develop with them so you can afford the work in your budget instead of waiting until it goes out and then trying to get it done.”

Understand the designed capacity of your building systems and determine what would happen if they were overworked, Pyke adds: “Your stormwater system may have been designed to accommodate a typical 25- to 50-year rain event. Now those events are going to be happening more frequently and at a greater severity. What happens when the system’s capacity is exceeded? What does the failure state look like? Does it fail gracefully by routing water out of the system or will water cascade through my garage and cause damage? What’s my contingency plan if the system fails?”

5) Develop a Plan of Action

Once you know your building’s unique combination of capability and vulnerability, it’s time to prepare for future emergencies. Address any identified areas where your building’s defenses against the elements are weak.

“Think critically about what infrastructure needs to keep working and how to harden or secure that infrastructure so it does,” says Guenther. “It’s about getting critical infrastructure out of harm’s way, whether that means above flood levels or into buildings that are more secure against high wind.”

Your post-assessment action should account for how you’ll communicate to occupants in the case of an outage, Sullivan says. Remember that not everyone has a laptop that can run off battery backup for a few hours – you may have to go door to door to reach everyone in an emergency. Your communication protocols should be added to an emergency planning packet to be distributed to each tenant if applicable, along with an escape plan and information on what to expect in the event of outages or emergencies.

Also encourage tenants to develop safety kits (or develop your own for owner-occupied buildings) that include backup water, flashlights, emergency numbers and other basics.
Long-term action includes keeping resilience in mind when replacing equipment that’s reaching the end of its useful life, Pyke says.

“On a capital cycle, am I installing a piece of pipe or a chiller with a 20-year performance guarantee based on historic data, or am I anticipating what’s going to happen over the next 10 to 25 years with my building? In those moments, the marginal cost of doing something a little more resilient might be low or zero. Those are windows of opportunity to make more resilient decisions. Other decisions, like adding shading structures, are going to be costly – they increase the passive energy efficiency of a building and add resilience, but they involve a specific cost that requires more consideration.”

Janelle Penny is Senior Editor of BUILDINGS.

Resilience Resources

1. U.S. Climate Resistance Toolkit

Features five detailed steps and a free spreadsheet for resiliency planning, calculators and projections to help assess your own climate risks, links to training courses and more. For healthcare facilities, check out the included report, Primary Protection: Enhancing Health Care Resilience for a Changing Climate.

2. Green Building and Climate Resilience Report

Understand key risks by region and the likely consequences of climate change in the short, medium and long term. Recommended actions are split into no-regrets strategies (day-to-day resilience considerations that don’t require a significant investment) vs. resilient strategies (actions that require some investment but will significantly boost resilience).

3. National Climate Assessment

Learn more about your region’s risks and recommended resilience strategies. The detailed report covers every aspect of climate change that could affect your building, from transportation upsets that could prevent occupants from reaching your building to projected changes in cooling and heating demand.

4. Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety

Make sure your building is prepared for intense, frequent weather events, including severe storms and high winds. See how each storm type can impact your building and learn about ways to shore up your facility to resist the damage.

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