As climate patterns continue to shift, an increasing number of communities around the globe are not only experiencing extreme weather events with increased frequency, duration, and intensity, but also some are experiencing these hazards for the first time in their histories. As a first line of defense, building codes and standards are fundamental in assuring that buildings support the health, safety, and welfare of communities, including protecting life during hazardous events.
While many at-risk communities have adopted building codes to provide protection from the majority of anticipated hazards, most codes utilize historical data to assess the risk of weather-related hazards to buildings that may not account for new climate patterns. Therefore, as hazards change, building codes and standards developers need to be considering how to incorporate the latest research and data from building and climate-based science in order to address the evolving risks across the lifetime of the structures and maintain the expected levels of safety and resilience.
Creating the Global Resiliency Dialogue
This has led building safety professionals into unchartered territory as, traditionally, codes and standards are rooted in an environment of certainty. For its part, the International Code Council is developing a series of white papers on how the different International Codes (I-Codes) contribute to resilience. Although the data sources in these codes are still historical, there is great interest in developing potential strategies that can be used seamlessly with the current format of the I-Codes, such as an overlay document (a standard or guideline) that communities wishing to address future climate risks can adopt alongside their code, or a stand-alone standard that would address the process states and localities can use to improve resilience. However, understanding that no one nation or organization will be able to tackle this on their own, we are now seeing global action and collaboration since the threats resulting from more frequent and severe wind events, flooding, wildfires, and other hazard events are similar around the world.
The Global Resiliency Dialogue was initiated by a group of organizations that research and develop building codes and standards, including the International Code Council, the Australian Building Codes Board, the National Research Council of Canada, and the New Zealand Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. Through this collaborative effort, the ultimate goal is to create a set of international guidelines that can be used globally to advance further integration of climate science and resiliency measures into building codes and standards. Collectively, the group will perform comprehensive exploration of what is conceptually possible when shifting the underlying data referenced in building codes and standards to forward-looking models rather than historical data (which may not have been updated for a decade or more).
International Collaboration is Critical to Success
The guidelines that will be developed based on the findings will offer a realistic recommendation about how to improve the resilience of buildings based on the availability and limitations of future-looking climate modeling. After all, the challenge is not creating building codes and standards that protect against natural hazards, but instead determining how these codes and standards should be applied based on changing risk patterns in different geographical areas. As an example, many strong standards have already been developed including the International Wildland-Urban Interface Code (IWUIC) to protect buildings in wildfire or bushfire-prone areas. However, the number of buildings and geographical areas in which these standards should apply is shifting and growing as the world continues to experience increased temperatures and droughts that lead to larger and more intense wildfires, some impacting areas that were not previously believed to be at risk. This necessitates the use of appropriate codes and standards during the design and construction phase that anticipate the risks that will impact structures aligned with the anticipated life of those structures, in the range of twenty, fifty, or one hundred years.
In a common area of interest worldwide, global collaboration can be very powerful in creating an open network in which participants can share research and avoid duplicating efforts. The guidelines will form a starting point for jurisdictions to consider changes to building codes and standards that will lead to more-resilient communities. Additionally, if the guidelines evolve into national or international standards, the harmonization and common baseline of understanding will certainly facilitate trade and continued scholarly and technical exchange.
All Participation is Welcome
The work of the Global Resiliency Dialogue is expected to continue through the end of 2021, when the first draft of the guidelines is anticipated to be released. In the meantime, input and support from all interested stakeholders are welcomed, while all standards development organizations (SDOs) involved in the building, design and construction space are encouraged to sign onto the initiative and provide input into the ongoing survey about the conceptual possibilities of marrying climate science with building science, and/or in reviewing the draft guidelines. SDOs in other sectors are likewise encouraged to consider global dialogues resulting in pre-standard guidelines that can lead to international adoption and harmonization in emergent areas like climate change and resiliency. More information about the Global Resiliency Dialogue is available at www.globalresiliency.org.