Thursday, May 04, 2006

Survivor Building's article called " Passive Survivability:A New Design Criterion for Buildings" is interesting in that it promotes an idea buildings should be able to survive natural disasters.

In December 2001 an editorial in EBN introduced the concept of “passive survivability,� or a building’s ability to maintain critical life-support conditions if services such as power, heating fuel, or water are lost, and suggested that it should become a standard design criterion for houses, apartment buildings, schools, and certain other building types
This is a noble idea, but it needs to be limited to situations survivability is needed most.
David Eisenberg, whose organization, DCAT, has been working to integrate aspects of sustainability into building codes for the past ten years, points out that the purpose statement in the International Building Code states that codes should “safeguard public health, safety, and general welfare from hazards attributed to the built environment.� “When a building is unable to provide a safe and habitable environment,� says Eisenberg, “it fails to meet this standard of responsibility.� He believes that this should apply whether all of the building’s assumed utilities are functioning or not. “We should not be designing, approving, and constructing buildings that kill people when they are disconnected from their external utilities,� Eisenberg told EBN.
But people need to be aware that survivability has its limits. If a shelter is located too close to the shoreline and is vulnerable to stormsurge, no amount of engineering will be able to keep out the water. On the other hand, there are things that architects an engineers can do.
  • Locate shelters on sites that are high enough to avoid flooding.
  • Design for wind loads that far exceed current building codes.
  • Provide for back-up emergency power with enough fuel for several days.
  • Incorporate an independent sewer system that can operate with the municipal sewer system out of action.
  • On-site storage of potable water for several thousand people for several days.
Many in the media like to view the Superdome as a failed experiment to provide shelter during a massive storm. On the contrary, it was quite successful. No one died at the Superdome as a result of the storm. The misery at the Dome was a result of people being stuck in a substandard environment for several days. The only shortcoming the building had was that the the toilets were connected to the city sanitation system. And when that failed, the toilets failed to flush. The other was power. But while being stuck in 90+ degrees climate is unpleasent - my family wasn't much better off in Baton Rouge - it is not life-threatening except for the infirm who should not ride out a strorm anyway.

Survivability is not so much a design and engineering challenge but rather a budge challenge. We as architects and engineers can design building to withstand 200 mph winds, incorporate emergency power and build sanitation systems. The real problem is how will it be paid for. Unfortunately my degree was in architecture, not finance.

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