Approximately 40 percent of the U.S. population lives and works in coastal zones, vulnerable to highly destructive natural events such as storms, hurricanes, and earthquakes. Nevertheless, robust coastal commercial real estate development has remained steady, lending urgency to building resiliency and preparedness. Long-term considerations about the infrastructure risk natural disasters pose to assets include ways to mitigate secondary post-storm damage and how to implement safer, more resilient, commercially cost-effective building design in the future. Investors have begun using resiliency metrics in addition to yields and interest rates for long-term asset planning in their portfolios.
For investors, owners, and occupants of current properties, wholesale resiliency involves assessing and implementing building reinforcements, proactive advanced preparedness and planning, and having plans to expedite post-disaster recovery strategies. Industrial structures require particular attention to big-ticket items, such as the roof and exposed HVAC roof-top units, and any building components necessary for maintaining continuity in business operations, asset revenue, and occupancy.
Understanding Risk Fundamentals for Resiliency
Are you carefully considering what your property’s risk of loss would be in the event of a disaster? Have you taken measures to assess and minimize these losses through proactive retrofits and structural fortifications?
Even prior to Hurricanes Irma, Harvey, and Maria, 15 of the 30 costliest hurricanes in history all occurred between 2004 and 2013. Hurricanes and tropical storms can cause damage from high wind forces and secondary wind-blown debris. Predictive wind loss estimates should properly incorporate factors beyond lateral wind forces, such as the exposure to wind-blown debris from nearby structures, or parapets of adequate height to effectively reduce uplift pressure. Consult the American Society for Civil Engineers updates to high-risk wind zone maps.
Check whether your property conforms to Uniform Building Code requirements in vulnerable states such as Florida, many of which have updated their wind codes. Does the building have clip design or retrofit solutions where roof systems are tied into the foundation anchorage? For industrial buildings, which often have a large roof surface area vulnerable to wind damage, could you reinforce the seams, panels, or flashings to minimize tears or breakaway elements? Or, is your aggregate, ballasted roof system prone to blow-off?
For properties in earthquake zones, a thorough, non-invasive seismic risk assessment and probable maximum loss estimate is an essential starting point. Understanding your engineer’s retrofit design experience and expertise specific to the building type, like a tilt-up industrial property, or unreinforced masonry multifamily property, is key to executing a proper retrofit. For tilt-up industrial construction, retrofitting is now a very seasoned and straightforward practice of tying in the walls with anchors to the floor and roof systems and preventing or significantly limiting the likelihood of the structure folding like a house of cards during a seismic event.
Consider potential for damage from storm surge and flooding, which can be far more detrimental and difficult to remediate. Evaluate whether properties are in a flood zone, and the nature of the flood risk. Federal Emergency Management Agency flood zone base elevation maps are a good start, but can be unreliable. Land surveys by professional civil engineers can issue a much more accurate elevation certificate. These assessments provide a three-dimensional topographical correlation of your property relative to a flood elevation area, and the potential geotechnical issues that could arise due to flooding (landslides, subsidence, surficial soil erosion).
Proactive Planning and Protocol Management
Evaluating critical mechanical and engineering systems is important for a variety of industries and property types. Are there any essential operations at or near ground surface or that face disruption with a loss of electricity or one foot of flooding? Can these operations be moved? Storm surge and flooding can pose additional resiliency considerations for properties that work with hazardous materials.
For investors, owners, and occupants of current properties, wholesale resiliency involves assessing and implementing building reinforcements, proactive advanced preparedness and planning, and having plans to expedite post-disaster recovery strategies.
Are you meeting or up to date on a Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasures Plan that applies based on the gallons of storage capacity thresholds? Your spill prevention planning and secondary containment features should consider the anchorage and spill protection features necessary to handle high water events. Keeping storage vessels intact and in place can save you significantly in restoration and cleanup from tanks that break loose, rupture, or overflow. Property owners should assess whether they would be in immediate risk zones for exposure or damage and contact their insurance provider to make sure they are covered.
Is your property pre-programmed to automatically or even manually adjust to an emergency operation mode? Proactively maintaining emergency generator systems (many of which can operate on solar energy) and upgrading them to handle sustained periods of operation following a natural disaster is one of the most important considerations, especially for industrial businesses. Prolonged utility loss disrupts everything from cellular service to basic retail (gas, groceries) and residential life. Does your planning consider safety concerns such as carbon monoxide exposure related to prolonged emergency or portable generator operations?
A camera system designed to allow basic observation and assessment in times of need can be critical when the property is physically inaccessible or poses too great of a safety concern. Getting a pair of expert eyes or a video assessment of your property may not be a viable option. Drones cannot legally fly when federal and local authorities ban private use without proper FAA authorization while rescue operations are under way. Satellite imagery can be limited in resolution without clear skies. Damage assessment for structural or moisture-related inspection services can be the best option from firms equipped and experienced in mobilizing resources to the area, but it’s typically a few days or even a week until these services can be safely and reasonably executed.
Are you carefully considering what your property’s risk of loss would be in the event of a disaster?
Finally, consider a contingency plan for maintaining accessibility and operation of brick-and-mortar systems infrastructure. Address IT security and cyber vulnerability, which peaks after disaster events, with a cybersecurity disaster plan and training.
Post-Disaster Recovery Essentials
The heavy, multi-directional rains and storm surges of natural disasters present a multitude of concerns. Roofing system elements and roof penetrations need to be secure and properly sealed to handle heavy lateral rains, especially on pitched roofs. Building envelope and window systems on vulnerable sides of the building need proper fortification, thickness, and sealant to withstand moisture making a direct hit and intruding in areas typically safe from vertical rain events. Detailed surveys where foundation and site elevations are confirmed can be instrumental in flood plain exposure and defending flood insurance claims.
Water from storm surge or heavy rain gets in your building and finds its way through new angles and crevices and into wall cavities and other internal areas that you wouldn’t expect or easily investigate. Finding it all can be more of an art than an emergency response skill for the moisture intrusion investigator. The first step in a response protocol should be to fully ascertain which areas are most affected by water damage as well as determining the water migration. Industrial properties with docks or dock bays should prioritize a rapid pump out of water damage to restore function. Water impacted properties create indoor air quality concerns that may need ongoing monitoring for tenant or resident health considerations. Moisture mapping can track the progress of material drying, which is essential in monitoring mold and the need to remove materials. This is important for restoration efforts and as documentation for the owner and its insurance company.
Even prior to Hurricanes Irma, Harvey, and Maria, 15 of the 30 costliest hurricanes in history all occurred between 2004 and 2013.
Do you have a readily available, detailed asbestos or lead-based paint operations and maintenance plan? Clearly assessing what materials are “hot” (asbestos-containing) can save substantial money and time associated with delays in a scenario where impacted materials need to be removed and disposed of. This is critical for buildings with substantial roof area, as roofing materials can contain high levels of asbestos. To confirm materials as asbestos-containing in a disaster response scenario, be sure your triplicate sampling and homogeneous material assumptions are sound before letting the remediation contractor loose, and cover yourself with oversight documentation of the remediation contractor’s work. Before hiring asbestos and moisture mapping assessment professionals, don’t forget that states have differing licensing requirements for who is qualified to perform the assessment.
If your property handles or works with chemicals or hazardous materials, and you fear a spill may have occurred onto your (or neighboring) properties, it may be wise to engage a due diligence professional for a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment and/or Phase II Subsurface Investigation to evaluate for potential remediation needs.
Does your property have a formal storm contingency plan? In addition to the asbestos mapping, cybersecurity, and fuel/chemical storage issues discussed above, these should include basic protocols discussing drinking water risks, safety precautions for any industrial machine operations, preparation of safety kits and cash on hand, and readily available insurance paperwork and procedures to file claims as quickly as possible.
Investing time and resources into upgrading properties, maintaining structural and engineering resiliency, and implementing contingency plans can save property owners substantial funds and asset value in the long term.