At USRC, we believe that earthquakes and other natural hazard events are inevitable, but disasters don’t have to be. Mitigating the impacts of natural hazards is urgently needed and cost beneficial. Still, the idea that rating systems are a critical tool for advancing resilience deserves further explanation.

What is a Building Performance Rating?

Performance is about how well someone or something delivers on its promised functions. A rating system is a way to classify or rank different levels of performance according to clear criteria, so that relative performance levels — previous or expected — can be compared.

The USRC’s earthquake performance rating system is a systematic, expert-developed approach for communicating what might happen to a building and its functionality when it is exposed to strong ground shaking. Each rating is calculated using best available methodologies consistent with but going beyond the kind of information and requirements embedded in building codes. USRC is actively working with partners to develop similar rating systems for other hazards, such as wildfire and wind.

USRC’s system works similarly to other examples of building performance rating systems that instead focus on energy and sustainability goals, such as: LEED, BREAM, HERS, and Green Globes. FEMA uses a Community Rating System to incentivize local investment in flood damage prevention. Performance rating systems also help people manage risk in other areas of our lives, such as crash safety test ratings for automobiles, ENERGYSTAR for appliances, and MorningStar ratings for financial investment

Who benefits and how from Building Performance Ratings?

For the owner or developer, USRC ratings can aid decision making in a variety of stages in design-bid-build or design/build projects. Ratings are not a recipe or prescription for what your building needs to have or look like. Instead, project leads and the design team work early on with engineers to plan for the level of performance for that makes sense for that specific project.

The engineer can calculate ratings for different design options and help the team explore different structural options to find cost-effective solutions to meet the desired performance criteria. A USRC rating contains information about three important dimensions of building performance: safety, repair cost, and time until functional recovery. That allows project leaders to evaluate questions like:

What level and types of performance do we—and our investors, future buyers, insurers, or lessees—want and value?

What solutions can we incorporate in our design or rehabilitation approach to achieve higher performance at reasonable cost?

What is the highest level of performance we can afford, without compromising other project goals and constraints?

Rating Systems Work to Change Behavior and Markets

Rating systems are in use all over our lives, from the service industry, finance, energy efficiency, health care, and more.  At heart, ratings help us choose what we want and how much we want to spend relative to what we’re going to get. One of the best examples is crash test ratings for automobiles, which allow consumers to comparison shop for safety in combination with all the other features we might want from a car. This is a helpful analogy because safety is not the only criteria we may care about. Clear, credible, and consistent information helps people weigh the trade-offs. That’s what USRC seeks to deliver.

Research shows that rating systems can powerfully influence market behavior just by standardizing and making more information available. People start wanting to serve, or produce, or build differently because they can verify the difference it makes and capture the economic benefits. Ratings have worked well in many other domains and it’s fundamentally appealing to empower people with information access so they can make better informed decisions for themselves, rather than focusing solely on regulation and mandates.

The US Resiliency Council was founded with the mission to clarify performance misconceptions and expectation. show stakeholders that the kind of performance they may want from their buildings is in fact achievable and often quite affordable with good ROI.

For more discussion on how rating systems are influencing real estate construction practices, design team dynamics, and advancing community resilience, watch the 20-min Episode 8: Knowledge is Power or full 90-min webinar with panel discussion, that first aired June 16, 2021 as part of the Resilience Advantage series cosponsored by USRC and Optimum Seismic.