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Human Impacts Institute Attends ‘Building Resiliency Revealed’

July 17, 2013

With the bulk of their work behind them, a sense of urgency nonetheless lingered among the NYC Building Resiliency Task Force members who assembled at the Con Edison building June 25 for a panel discussion hosted by the Urban Green Council (UGC). With hurricane season upon us, perhaps that sense of urgency is no surprise.

 

The task force was formed in December 2012 after Hurricane Sandy, at the request of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. Among the volunteers were architects, engineers, building owners, code experts, city officials, and others who hoped to ensure that next time around, New York’s buildings would prove more resistant to the storm. After all, said Cecil Scheib, UGC’s director of advocacy, “it won’t take a Sandy-sized storm to get another Sandy-sized surge.”

As the evening’s opening MC, Scheib described resiliency as a “game-changer topic” in that it has provided a “chance for the city to look at its building stock in a different way.” Later, UGC Executive Director Russell Unger recalled the experiences so many New Yorkers faced in the days after the storm, trapped in buildings with blind hallways and flooded lower floors as they waited for essential services like electricity and water to be restored. “Historically,” noted Unger, the focus of disaster planning has been on “getting people *out* of buildings.” In large-scale disasters like Sandy, however, there’s no place for people to go. “Now,” said Unger, “it’s about keeping them in safely.”

 

Over the past five months, more than 200 volunteers collectively spent 5,000 hours of their time attending 45 meetings and poring over nearly 100 proposals as part of their work for the task force. Out of that effort, 33 recommendations survived, many of them code changes that have quickly become legislation, and may become law by the end of the year.  Those recommendations are outlined in the task force’s report, released earlier in June.

 

The recommendations in the report address basic building safety and maintenance upgrades (recommendation No. 8: “require valves on building sewage lines to prevent sewage from entering the building”) as well as backup power needs (recommendation Nos. 17-19: remove barriers to backup and natural gas generators, cogeneration, and solar energy).  The task force’s work has been part of a broader effort initiated by the mayor to address both resiliency and rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy. The results of that effort are detailed in a report called “A Stronger, More Resilient New York.

 

Panelist Fiona Cousins, an engineer, noted anecdotally that New Yorkers’ approach to building safety seems already to be changing in the months since Sandy. Property managers’ concerns have shifted toward *surpassing* the standards set by building codes rather than just meeting them, she said. Nonetheless, Commissioner Robert LiMandrinoted later on that the recommendations so carefully selected by the task force are far from a done deal. “This isn’t going to happen just because we wrote this little book,” he told the crowd. “This will happen because people push people to do the right thing.”

 

The Human Impacts Institute (HII) will be following this issue, so stay tuned for more. In the meantime, you can follow the regular updates at the Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency (SIRR) website.

 

Panelists:

  • Jeff Brodsky: President, Related Management

  • Robert LiMandri: Commissioner, NYC Buildings Department

  • Michael Schrieber: Executive Director, Sea Crest Health Care Center

  • Fiona Cousins: Principal, Arup

  • Angela Sung Pinsky: Senior Vice President of Management Services and Government Affairs, Real Estate Board of New York

 

By Nora Ankrum, Environmental Leadership Intern, Human Impacts Institute

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