My names is Johanna Cunningham, a proud, six year United States Resiliency Council (USRC) board member. When asked to write about why I personally support resilient building design, I was a little unsure.  I am not an engineer, developer, or builder, but I realized that as the only layperson on our board, I have a different approach to the topic of resiliency.  At first pass, I think of resilience as being strong or sturdy.  Before I joined the USRC, what did not come to mind was the resiliency of our built environment.  As a consumer, I simply walked into buildings without any concerns and expected to walk out fine.  That was before I learned more about what it means to have a resilient building.  One that can withstand an unexpected event like an earthquake, mud slide, or hurricane, that can reduce serious injuries or deaths, and protect businesses and owners from catastrophic consequences to their personal and financial lives due to damage and loss of use.

After watching the recent collapse of the condo building in Florida, I’m even more convinced that physical improvements and attention to resilient building strategies should be taken more seriously. In that example, such efforts could have mitigated and maybe even prevented tragedy. Think back also to when Katrina struck in 2005.  Alongside the devastating personal losses, the economic losses totaled more than $100 billion[1], and less than a quarter of that was insured.  If USRC ratings had been offered and completed prior to this disaster, New Orleanians would have had better information about their building vulnerabilities, and the opportunity to repair, update, and drastically mitigate the impact and loss.  Businesses would have been able to be up and running faster, repairs would have been greatly reduced, and more safety would have been in place.  Fewer citizens displaced. All of this is the mission of the USRC.

Our built environment is getting older.  We hear every day how our bridges, roads, high-rise buildings, apartments, and communities across the country are in need of improvement.[2]  USRC is a premiere organization establishing clear performance benchmarks, making the case for resilient building practices, and bringing visibility, recognition, value, and marketing rewards to owners that make upgrades and build better.  Buildings with a Verified or Transactional USRC earthquake rating have been analyzed by a highly qualified expert, whose work is independently audited. Owners or investors in a USRC rated building have high-quality, building specific information and reduced uncertainty, and a much better vantage point from which to make decisions about possible improvements to protect those who live, work, and shop in these buildings.

While my background is in real estate as an Executive Director, I am also a consumer who has become acutely aware of my surroundings. Part of my newfound knowledge is that improving buildings and making them more resilient often costs on the order of 1% to 2% of the total construction budget.  This cost is minimal when compared to how long it takes to get back to business after a disaster without the improvements.

What I hope will happen now and in the future is that consumers, tenants, and business professionals will raise the call for more resilient buildings, bringing more awareness, urgency, and action to an issue that will only get worse if we don’t do something to change the outcomes.  The choice is in our hands. The worst thing is to do nothing until the earthquake, fire, flood, or other event happens, which will be more costly in terms of repair, deaths, or collapse that it has to be—and weigh on our consciences.  My question is, what are you waiting for?  Resiliency awareness is essential and needed, so I will end as I began: we must support diverse strategies including the USRCs to make our building environment stronger, sturdier, and more resilient.

[2] Accessed 04/02/2021.