Assess Buildings’ Resilience to Natural and Manmade Threats

Integrated Rapid Visual Screening tool from the Department of Homeland Security

We live in a scary world. The broad reach of today’s 24-hour news outlets and the increased connectedness resulting from the ubiquitous use of social media makes us more aware of turmoil around the globe. These are uncertain and unpredictable times and we always must be alert to protect ourselves from all types of natural and manmade threats.

Definition of Resilience

The Department of Homeland Security’s Definition of Resilience

“We can’t protect everybody from everything,” says Jeff Friedland, Homeland Security emergency management director for St. Clair County, Mich., which is adjacent to Ontario, Canada’s Chemical Valley. The county is the second-ranked U.S. entry point for hazardous materials imports, and Friedland is charged with protecting its 170,000 citizens from potential disasters.

“People have expectations of receiving government services in the first 12 hours after an incident,” he continues. “What they don’t always understand is 75 percent of the infrastructure—gas, electricity, water, communications, and financial and health-care industries—is not controlled by the government. If we can’t get the private sector to keep their operations going, then we’re all going to lose.”

Friedland utilizes a free tool from the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science & Technology Directorate to assist building owners in his jurisdiction in protecting their buildings from threats of all kinds. The Integrated Rapid Visual Screening (IRVS) tool consists of a manual and software to complete risk assessments on buildings; mass transit; tunnels; and, soon, airports. It is designed to identify structural and operational vulnerabilities to natural and manmade disasters and be the first step for owners to make their structures resilient. DHS defines resilience as the ability to resist, absorb, recover from, or successfully adapt to adversity or a change in conditions.

The IRVS buildings module includes 15 building types and uncovers vulnerabilities to 20 hazardous events under the following threat categories: internal attacks; external explosive attacks; external chemical, biological and radiological release; earthquakes; flood; wind; landslide; and fire. According to Friedland, on average, it takes members of his well-trained team two and a half hours to complete a thorough assessment using the IRVS tool. This minimal time obligation could be the difference between life and death for a building and its occupants.

IRVS Building Types

IRVS Building Types (Click to view larger)

Step By Step

Friedland does not take the volatility of emergency management lightly. Municipalities around the country continue to operate under the constraints of extraordinarily tight budgets, and, as such, must manage with the resources they have. “We only have X number of emergency responders,” he says. “Emergency services prides itself in saying that when you call we’ll be at your door in a matter of minutes. But what happens in a widespread event when a large number of homes and businesses are affected? People are going to call and we aren’t going to be able to come because we don’t have the resources. If 50 percent of the community was resilient, then we’d only have to focus those resources on the other 50 percent.”

St. Clair County so far has concentrated its IRVS project on buildings and infrastructure dedicated to life safety, including emergency services, energy and water, communications, transportation, health care and public health, but has tested the use of the tool on schools and other buildings. Friedland’s team has completed 18 screenings since the county began using IRVS in fall 2012.

The three-step screening process includes pre-field, field and post-field evaluations. Buildings are assessed under the following parameters:

  • Site
  • Architecture
  • Building enclosure
  • Structure
  • Mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems
  • Fire-protection systems
  • Security systems
  • Cyber/communication infrastructure
  • Continuity of operations

About the Author

Christina A. Koch
Christina A. Koch is editorial director and associate publisher of retrofit.

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