Hurricane Sandy Gives NYC Building Code a Fresh Look
Published by Tara Mulrooney on June 18, 2013
Hurricane Sandy caused a lot of strife—and a lot of litigation—in NYC. But there was also a lot to learn from the storm and New York hasn’t wasted time identifying lessons … and solutions.
Last week, the NYC Building Resiliency Task Force issued a Report of 33 recommendations for proposed NYC Building Code changes. If accepted, the recommendations—aimed to make NYC buildings safer and better prepared for extreme weather—will have a profound impact on requirements for new construction in NYC, renovations to existing structures and, in some cases, retrofits to existing structures.
The Building Resiliency Task Force was formed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn to assess the damage done by Superstorm Sandy and develop specific proposals to create “resilient” buildings—buildings that in the face of hurricanes, heavy rains, heat waves, blackouts, blizzards, storm surges and flooding, will resist damage, protect occupants and allow evacuated residents to return quickly to their homes. The Task Force was comprised of 200+ members, including leading experts in the design and construction industry, architects, engineers, contractors, real estate owners, property managers, utility representatives, city officials and cost estimators.
The 33 recommendations issued by the Task Force are grouped into four categories—Stronger Buildings; Backup Power; Essential Safety, Better Planning. Each recommendation is then identified as Required Upgrade, New Code, Remove Barrier, Recommended, or Further Action.
Stronger Buildings, the largest chapter of the report, includes recommendations related to managing flooding, resisting wind and preventing emergencies. These recommendations aim to reduce the likelihood that extreme weather will escalate into emergency conditions.
Backup Power: Lack of electricity after Sandy proved more challenging for many New Yorkers than the storm itself. The Backup Power recommendations include installation recommendations for building owners who wish to voluntarily add backup power; changes to laws and incentives that allow owners to choose the right backup power source for their building; and power sources for two essential needs during blackouts—egress lighting in buildings and pumps at gas stations.
Essential Safety recommendations are generally directed toward residential buildings (as other buildings can be left vacant in extreme weather events) and focus on protecting lives by ensuring drinking water, sanitation and habitable interior temperatures.
Better Planning recommendations fall into three groupings: emergency planning, removing barriers to assisting those in need of help after disasters and speeding up recovery. One recommendation of particular interest to design professionals is the recommendation to enact “Good Samaritan” legislation protecting architects and engineers from liability for emergency volunteer work.
The Task Force Report also includes information on how each of the 33 recommendations affect all of the City’s different building types, from high rise towers and apartment buildings to single family homes and ground floor shops.
Report back for details on Building Resiliency Task Force next steps and related news.
Sample Recommendations from the Building Resiliency Task Force Report
- Preventing storm damage by requiring new and replacement windows and doors to be wind resistant and strengthening foundations of existing buildings
- Launching a design competition to design streetscapes of raised homes for buildings located in flood zones
- Relocating building equipment systems from lower and first levels to levels above the flood zone
- Preventing sewage backflow by requiring valves on building sewage lines
- Designing sidewalks to capture storm water
Backup Power: Requiring buildings to provide lighting in hallways and stairwells during extended blackouts and requiring all fuel stations to have a backup generator or be generator ready.
Essential Safety: Requiring residential buildings to provide drinking water to a common area supplied directly through pressure in the public water main and requiring toilets and faucets to function without grid power.
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