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BEING PREPARED IS THE KEY TO SUCCESSFULLY OVERCOMING NATURAL DISASTERS.
In 2017, after we were hit by two devastating hurricanes, we learned that rebuilding after a natural disaster is much more than simply raising up damaged or destroyed structures. We learned that rebuilding is all about supporting each other as human beings within our shared communities and actively collaborating as citizens through education.
This is why the Keep Safe Guide for Resilient Housing Design in Island Communities by Enterprise Community Partners was created. To educate both working professionals and the general public on how to be better prepared for the next disaster. Through the lessons learned from this guide, we could be better prepared and more self-aware that the decisions we all make can affect not only ourselves but also our community at large. Here are the top ten lessons from the Keep Safe Guide:
1. IDENTIFY YOUR CONSTRUCTION TEAM.
Your construction team should consist of all the professionals and stakeholders involved in the implementation of home resilience strategies. If your team does not know how to build safely, then it will be difficult to construct resilient structures. Below are some suggested single-family & multi-family construction resiliency team members:
- Home/Building owner
- Owner’s representative
- Insurance agent
- Property Manager
- Financing partner
- Hardware store merchant
- Non-governmental organization (if applicable)
Make sure that you build following the 2018 Puerto Rico Building Codes. Following the codes helps protect public health, safety, and general welfare with respect to the construction and occupancy of buildings and structures.
2. Understanding the importance of a building’s site location.
The site location of a building is key in this process. Factors such as the type of soil, proximity to water, and climate are important to consider for your site. Here’s how to choose infrastructure elements that best suit your site:
- Don’t locate your house or facility in a floodplain or floodway, as determined by FEMA.
- Be careful not to locate housing in an area prone to landslides.
- Ensure drainage paths go from the roof, down the wall, away from the house and the site, and into the street gutters to avoid dumping water onto your neighbor’s site.
- Avoid locating your home or building in a very arid area without bringing water to the site to keep foliage from drying out and becoming “tinder.”
- Avoid locating your home, building, or associated infrastructure in coastal areas.
Building in the right site can mitigate natural life-threatening hazards.
3. Inspect and monitor the structural condition of your home.
The condition and strength of a home’s structure depends on continuous monitoring and frequent maintenance. This effort focuses on how to evaluate a structure by identifying points of weakness and implementing solutions. Consult with a building professional (can be an engineer, or architect) to get the most thorough inspection possible.
The best way to maintain a building is to understand its vulnerability and implement the solution that best targets it.
4. Building a strong foundation.
A strong building starts with the foundation, or the base of a home, because it holds the main structure together. The International Code Council (I-Codes) and the building standards of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) require that a foundation must be designed to prevent floatation, collapse, and lateral movement.
To accomplish this, a foundation must:
- Resist lateral and uplift loads from floods, high winds, and earthquakes.
- Be protected against flood- borne and wind-borne debris impacts.
- Be resistant to erosion and scour that can undermine the foundation.
If foundations are not built properly, then structures become more prone to collapse when natural disasters occur.
5. Why do I need construction permits?
Historically, many homeowners in Puerto Rico have not procured required construction permits when building, rebuilding, rehabilitating, or repairing their home.
Permits are important because they can certify that your construction project is built to code. This is essential to not only ensure that your building meets minimum life safety requirements, but it also provides the benefit of standards derived from the latest research, product innovation, and science in the industry. More importantly, getting the required construction permits and following the Puerto Rico Building Codes will ultimately keep you safe from structural and natural hazards.
6. Understand “passive habitability”.
The concept of “passive habitability,” refers to improving a housing facility’s ability to maintain habitable conditions in the event of extended power loss or in the event of hazardous conditions related to natural disasters. In other words, a building’s structure, energy system, water system and immediate surroundings all work together so that people can live “off the grid.”
Techniques of passive habitability include:
- Reducing thermal heat transfer.
- Increasing ventilation.
- Benefitting from natural light.
- Controlling moisture and mold.
- Managing pests.
Incorporating passive habitability strategies into the way you live now, will reduce your energy bill and protect residents in hazardous conditions.
7. Temporary power generation strategies.
For years, it has been common knowledge that both equipment and purchasing sources of electricity need to be diversified. Luckily, a growing alternative energy industry is making renewable technology, such as solar panels and solar thermal systems, available to more people. While emergency generators remain a good support for short-term power loss, new renewable energy systems can provide long-term value.
Along with these technological solutions, the way to scale down dependence on electrical suppliers is to reduce daily energy consumption patterns in your home, evaluate alternative energy systems, and to manage a backup system to get through an emergency.
8. How to manage water resources during a storm.
During storms, potable water can become scarce or contaminated, and non-potable water such as waste from sinks and toilets may have nowhere to go.
Even though Puerto Rico has some of the most abundant water resources on Earth, there is not enough water treatment infrastructure to purify or distribute this water. This can leave homes vulnerable to interruptions in potable water supply. This demonstrates the importance of taking resilient water management into our own hands, and we can do so by:
- Reducing our water consumption.
- Collecting and using rainwater.
- Improving our septic system.
- Preventing wastewater backflow in homes.
Managing water resources to create a resilient household or residential building is critical to supporting household, building and community resilience.
9. Develop and family emergency plan.
With hurricanes and other extreme events becoming more common, all families need an emergency plan that addresses their household’s needs. All good plans will help you determine what you and your family need to do before, during, and after a natural disaster.
Whether you have a household of one or many, establishing an emergency plan is vital to suit your household’s unique needs. Your plan should focus on helping you and your household manage essential information, stay connected, and have essential supplies during and immediately after a disaster.
10. Act together: the importance of community engagement.
Times of turmoil become an opportunity for people across the island to get to know or develop deeper relationships with their fellow citizens and harness the power of mutual solidarity. The best way to harness resilience is to ensure health and safety across Puerto Rico through community empowerment.
Ways in which a community can come together and prepare for and respond to future challenges are to: develop a community plan for evacuation, communication, and transportation; identify and prepare a safe community shelter; have a short-term and long-term community plan for emergency response.
Planning with your neighbors and community can also help prevent property damage and save lives.
While no one can anticipate all the consequences of a natural disaster, past events have taught us that being prepared is the key to successfully overcome them. It’s important to take advantage of resources like the Keep Safe Guide that can help you and all citizens become educated and be better prepared to survive future disasters.
You can download the complete Keep Safe Guide for free! Click here to get the English version of the guide. For the Spanish version of the guide click here.