Resilient Construction Vital in Mitigating Property Damage Losses


We are experiencing increased frequency and severity of storm losses in the U.S., causing billions of dollars in property damage and devastating communities. In March alone, a strong upper-level disturbance spawned dozens of severe convective storms across the central U.S. According to CoreLogic, hail greater than one inch in diameter affected approximately 660,000 single- and multifamily residential properties across the country over two days. Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, and Oklahoma were among the most heavily impacted states.

Severe convective storms include straight-line winds, tornadoes, hail, and thunderstorms and are among the most frequent and damaging natural hazard events in the U.S., according to CoreLogic. In 2023, severe convective storms caused $66 billion in damage, according to Munich Re.

Hurricanes and wildfires are other causes of significant property damage year after year. According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimates, the relatively calm 2023 hurricane season caused property damage between $3 billion and $4 billion. Economic losses and property damage from previous years were much higher, including Hurricane Ida in 2021, with damages of $65 billion to $75 billion; Hurricane Harvey in 2017, with damages of $133 billion to $141 billion; Hurricane Sandy in 2012, with damages of $74.5 billion to $80 billion; and Hurricane Katrina in 2005, with damages of $167 billion to $182.5 billion.

Local and federal governments, the insurance industry, and other stakeholders seek solutions to help prevent and mitigate the loss from natural disasters. The construction industry is among the leading stakeholders instrumental in providing property resiliency in the face of catastrophic events.

What Is Resilient Construction?

Resilience in construction is defined as the ability of a structure to absorb or avoid damage without failing completely. Resilient construction can withstand a natural disaster with minimal damage and interruption during and after it occurs.

As the frequency of loss and destructiveness of natural disasters increase, the adaptation, retrofitting, design, and construction of resilient buildings and infrastructure systems become more necessary than ever. Resilient construction protects people and property, allowing communities to function and recover swiftly following disasters.

For example, when Hurricane Ian hit Fort Myers Beach and Babcock Ranch, Florida, in 2022, the stories of both communities were significantly different. Fort Myers Beach was submerged under nearly 14 feet of storm surge, destroying or damaging virtually all of its 3,200 buildings. Babcock Ranch was spared, as it was designed with resiliency in mind. The town is primarily powered by an 870-acre solar farm in collaboration with Florida Power & Light. Fiber optic internet and power wires are all routed underground to reduce their vulnerability to winds and flying debris. At heights of 25 feet or more above sea level, the neighborhood is not vulnerable to coastal storm surge. In addition, Babcock Ranch requires that all structures be rated to withstand winds of up to 145 mph.

Implement Rigorous Building Codes and Standards for Resilient Construction

Babcock Ranch is an excellent example of incorporating resilient construction in a community. Cities and counties have implemented rigorous building codes or are strengthening standards to account for regional risks and hazards. These codes address structural integrity, wind resistance, seismic resistance, flood resistance, and fire safety. Following are some of the construction strategies used for new builds to improve resiliency:

  • Conduct detailed site assessments to identify potential risks, such as flood zones, landslides, and seismic activity.
  • Build strong structures to withstand natural disasters. This includes using reinforced concrete, steel, and other high-strength-to-weight materials.
  • Improve earthquake resilience by using modern engineering techniques, like base isolation and energy dissipation systems.
  • Design buildings and structures to withstand strong winds from hurricanes, tornadoes, and cyclones. This includes wind-resistant roofing, impact-resistant windows, and stronger connections between the roof, walls, and base. Use flood-resistant design concepts, particularly in flood-prone locations.
  • Raise the building above the base flood elevation, utilize flood-resistant materials, install flood vents to equalize hydrostatic pressure, and design appropriate drainage systems.
  • Use fire-resistant materials and construction practices to prevent fire damage. This could include noncombustible roofing materials, fire-resistant cladding, and suitable fire-rated compartmentalization.
  • Ensure a solid building envelope through well designed roof systems, windows, doors, and waterproofing measures. This helps to reduce water infiltration, wind-driven rain, and moisture-related damage during storms.

Building disaster-resistant structures is critical today. While it may be more expensive than ordinary construction, investing ahead of time saves money compared to repairing and/or replacing badly damaged structures.