Building Resiliency Task Force, Construction

Building Resiliency Task Force Kicks Off

December 19, 2012 | By Cecil Scheib | 1 Comment »

At the request of City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Urban Green Council has convened a special Building Resiliency Task Force of leaders in the NYC real estate community. The Task Force is taking an in-depth look at how to better prepare our buildings for future extreme weather events and infrastructure failures, and the grand kickoff was this morning, with Task Force members assembled for the first time.

Held in the Council Chambers at City Hall, over 100 Task Force members gathered to hear Speaker Quinn, Deputy Mayor Cas Holloway, and Commissioner of Buildings Robert LiMandri welcome them and describe the urgency of their work. Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability Director Sergej Mahnovski described some of the challenges facing New York City infrastructure and how this may affect buildings during future extreme events.

Members also learned more about the purview and structure of the Task Force. As described by Russell Unger, Urban Green Council’s Executive Director, the Task Force will consider both direct effects of extreme weather on buildings, such as flooding or wind damage, as well as secondary effects on buildings caused by infrastructure outages like loss of electricity and water. The Task Force will be fully focused on buildings, both new construction and potential retrofits to existing structures. The Task Force will not take up the important issues of infrastructure or zoning, which are being considered simultaneously by other city groups; as the city’s overall response to Sandy and preparation for other potential risks develops, the Task Force will adapt its process to fit in harmoniously with the larger effort. The Task Force will also include a “rapid rebuilding” component, to fast-track the review of policy proposals affecting buildings currently under consideration by City agencies and the City Council.

My role was to explain the inner workings of the Task Force itself. The main technical efforts will take place in Working Groups, organized by functional area and expertise and co-chaired by designers (architects and engineers). With input from cost, code, and legal experts, the Working Groups will develop proposals based for all types of buildings. These proposals will then be considered  by Committees, organized by building type (Residential, Commercial, and Critical buildings, the latter including hospitals, senior centers, shelters, fire stations, and so forth) and co-chaired by owners. The Committees will consider what parts of the technical proposals should apply to which buildings, with the most stringency likely given to Critical buildings, then Residential, and finally Commercial buildings, with the latter perhaps leaning more towards suggested best practices rather than new requirements. Put simply, Working Groups work in their technical area of expertise to describe what could be done, and Committees work in their building type area to decide by should be done.

There is also a separate Homes Committee, since the issues facing 1-3 family structures are unique. The Task Force will also have At-Large members, with wide-ranging expertise who will consult across all proposals, and a Steering Committee made up of the co-chairs plus representatives from Urban Green Council and New York City government agencies, the Mayor’s Office, and the City Council. The Task Force is blessed with an incredible array of highly experienced experts, including owners, property managers, architects, engineers, contractors, subject matter specialists, and representatives of utilities, city agencies, code consulting, cost estimating and law.

To dive in as deeply and as quickly as possible when meetings begin in the new year, it’s important that all members of the Task Force have a common understanding of what risks the city is facing, now and in the future. We were very lucky to hear remarks from Dr. Cynthia Rosenzweig, Senior Research Scientist at NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies at Columbia University. Dr. Rosenzweig was able to compare current risks to those New York City may face in upcoming decades due to climate change. 100-year coastal floods may occur every 15-35 years by 2080, with flood heights increasing by 1-2 feet. Similarly, the risks of heat waves and intense rains will also increase. It was sobering to see the extent of the hazards we may encounter, but knowing the science gives the Task Force a firm base upon which to begin its work.

The Task Force will release a report in summer, 2013. Stay tuned for updates between now and then!

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