As climate extremes increase, natural disasters will continue to be a part of every person's life. So how do we protect ourselves from natural disaster?
One way to mitigate the damage caused by these natural disasters is by designing and building structures that can withstand whatever climate change throws our way -- helping more people survive. Let’s take a closer look at the role and responsibility of construction when it comes to natural disasters, and how contractors can help ensure safety and stability.
The Role of Construction Before and After a Natural Disaster
Recent, Record-Breaking Economic Impact of Natural Disasters
Australia’s 2019/20 bushfire season was among the worst on record with direct and indirect losses upwards of $70 billion. In 2018, California broke records with wildfires costing over $12 billion in property damage and expenses related to containment. Experts estimate indirect economic losses to the U.S. economy of well over $150 billion. The 2020 season barely failed to break those records.
In 2017, the United States experienced one of the worst hurricane seasons on record. In Puerto Rico, which experienced billions of dollars in damages due to Hurricanes Irma and Maria, the total cost of recovery has been estimated at $139 billion. The Houston area was hit by Hurricane Harvey, resulting in the total loss or devastation of many area homes and businesses. The price tag for Harvey was roughly $125 billion. Incredibly, the recent winter storm in February 2021 shattered that record with potential total losses upwards of $295 billion in Texas and beyond.
Opportunities for Construction Companies
The incidences of natural disasters around the world are on the rise. While individuals are often forced to pay many out-of-pocket costs after a natural disaster, the government must also pay to rebuild roads and bridges, repair or rebuild government buildings, and replenish their supplies for the next emergency. All of these costs add up, making natural disasters a very expensive force to contend with.
However, all of this rebuilding offers an opportunity for construction companies. Not only will homes and businesses need to be rebuilt, but they’ll need to be made stronger and more able to stand up to the next natural disaster. Better building translates to more money for construction companies.
In addition to getting busier in the wake of a natural disaster, construction companies also need to build smarter. Utilizing new technologies is the best way to prevent total destruction when the next hurricane, blizzard, or tornado comes around.
The Evolution of Construction
Structures, whether they’re homes or businesses, were built to protect humans from the elements. Early mankind lived in rudimentary housing made of items such as mud, stone, or straw. As time went on, and humans evolved and began to understand more about the elements and the world around them, housing and architecture in general also evolved.
That tradition continues today. Every year, more and more advancements are made in the world of construction in order to make buildings as safe as possible. Additionally, construction sites themselves have to remain compliant with certain safety rules, making these sites far safer for workers than they were even 20 years ago.
Major innovations in construction that can help with rebuilding after a natural disaster
Over the last 100 years, we have seen a lot of changes to the way buildings are designed and constructed. Here are just a few examples of advancements in construction technology and how they help mitigate loss and damages caused by natural disasters.
Construction was largely manual until the mechanization of the industry. In addition to making life in general easier and more convenient, the construction industry was also given its largest boost. With the advent of machines such as concrete mixers, cranes, and power tools, we were able to build better, stronger structures more consistently, making them sturdier and more able to withstand natural disasters.
Computer-aided design (CAD)
When it comes to design, it wasn’t until we added computers to the mix that we were able to see clashes in design and construction. For example, with so many separate systems competing for the same space, it was often difficult to proactively avoid conflicts prior to the building phase, leaving contractors to deal with resolving design errors on-site. With the advent of CAD, it became simple. This advancement helps us understand, before even beginning construction, how well a building will hold up to the elements.
Building information management (BIM)
Just as CAD changed the world in its day, BIM has changed everything for designers and contractors today, enabling them to more easily collaborate on building projects. Combined with the tremendous amount of data BIM models both create and utilize, structures can actually be “tested” against computer simulations of hurricane-force winds or earthquake tremors before one brick is even laid. This allows for safer, more sound structures to be built with fewer problems down the road.
We’ve all seen images of concrete buildings collapsing after a particularly nasty disaster. Enter self-repairing concrete. This brand new invention is meant to repair itself when it cracks using a mixture of bacteria and nutrients, making it more able and ready to stand up in the face of Mother Nature’s wrath.
Modular construction and prefabrication
Offsite prefabrication and modular construction are becoming increasingly popular as technology fuels innovation. The sophistication of the robotics and AI-powered machinery available to fabrication factories has added tremendous value to these operations. Following a natural disaster, fast, high-quality, reasonably-priced construction is needed over wide areas. In recent months, this has proved a powerful aid in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic as these technologies have allowed health care facilities to quickly scale to meet dire needs.
Jobsite management applications
Cloud-based surveillance and access control technology provides jobsite safety and security managers a suite of tools that can make their jobs easier and more effective. In the event of a natural disaster or similar emergency, it can be a precious lifeline providing real-time updates on where all the workers are, and speeding up the process of contacting them or their emergency contacts.
It’s important for construction companies to keep up with new technology and innovations. Not only does innovation drive the industry forward, it also helps construction companies build smarter, more reliable buildings that are less likely to fail when a natural disaster bears down upon them.
How Construction Can Help…
… before a natural disaster
Construction plays a part in the way we prepare for emergencies. Local building codes are designed to ensure that new builds can stand up to the elements and potential hazards common to that area of the country.
However, going above and beyond these codes can ensure even stronger structures that will better withstand these hazards. For example, if you live or work in California, and are in an area prone to earthquakes, it can be invaluable to do a seismic upgrade, which will better prepare your structure for what may come.
No matter where your build is located, ensuring the resilience of the design can be critical to the survival of the structure, and even the survival of its inhabitants. Resilient design is defined by the ability of a structure to respond to natural or manmade disasters. While this may add cost, it will also ensure buildings or homes are able to more easily recover in the wake of a natural disaster.
… after a natural disaster
Disaster recovery is perhaps the most difficult part of a natural disaster for survivors. Not only do victims have to deal with the loss of homes, jobs, businesses, and potentially family members and pets, but they must also try to find a way to rebuild.
Finding ways to fortify damaged buildings and rebuild stronger structures in the wake of natural disaster could be critical to their survival in future disasters. It seems like every disaster that strikes teaches us something new or reinforces lessons we’ve learned in the past. For example, after Hurricane Sandy ravaged Manhattan in 2012, builders learned not to put mechanical and electrical equipment in the basement of buildings, as flooded buildings went without power for several weeks in some cases.
After a natural disaster, the public turns to contractors and the construction industry to help them rebuild their lives. Contractors can, in turn, go above and beyond to keep improving structures as they are repaired and rebuilt. More reinforcement, higher quality materials, and extra attention to detail can help buildings survive the next disaster.
Our ability to survive natural disasters depends largely on the stability of the structures in which we live and work.
Construction plays a vital role in protecting us from the elements, including the impact of natural disasters. It’s up to designers, building supply manufacturers, and builders to ensure they’re following local codes, utilizing the latest construction innovations, and favoring higher quality building materials, even in the face of added cost, to ensure structures are strong enough to withstand anything. Innovations in construction are happening every day. Are you ready to move forward?