Ron Mayes, co-founder of USRC, shares his thoughts on what the USRC offers the structural engineering profession: new and unique pathways to better communicate with and add value for clients.

My name is Ron Mayes, and I was the first Executive Director of the US Resiliency Council® and Chair of the USRC Board since 2016. I want to tell you why I felt compelled to help found the USRC, and why I think it offers the structural engineering profession a unique opportunity to better communicate with and add value for clients, as well as regain the public’s trust by improving the public’s understanding of the performance of buildings we design and retrofit.

The concept and desirability of a Building Rating System was a high priority of the structural engineering profession during the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. The disconnect between the anticipated performance of buildings in a major earthquake, and what the public understands or expects, was evident. Forward-thinking engineers knew we needed to do something more in order to communicate to owners, lenders and other stakeholders the performance of buildings in earthquakes and other hazards.

The reality was and is: Current building codes deliver life safety performance for all but the highest “Importance Factor” facilities, such as hospitals, fire stations, emergency operation centers, or hazardous facilities. That’s good. That’s essential. But a code-compliant building is meant to prevent collapse, not to prevent injuries, limit damage or allow quick recovery. The thinking was, if the public could be made more aware of their potential seismic risk, they could make better-informed decisions on owning and leasing properties. Market forces would eventually drive the building design, management, and procurement process towards more resilient seismic design.

The technical foundation for an earthquake rating system was established painstakingly over many years by hundreds of researchers and practitioners who contributed in many ways, often as volunteers. Building on developments such as the work of the SEAONC Existing Buildings Ratings Committee from 2006 to 2014, the ten-year FEMA funded FEMA P58/SP3 project and the recommendations of an ATC User’s Workshop in 2011, the USRC was formed as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. Our mission was to launch a market-ready five-star rating and accreditation system for experts who are qualified to certify the resiliency of buildings to earthquakes. The formation of the USRC has been technically and financially supported by 105 Founding Member firms from the broader structural engineering community.

In our first six years, we’ve delivered on the promise of a publicly available seismic building performance rating system. Key successes of the USRC to date include:

  • Awarding ratings or receiving rating commitments for more than one hundred buildings with more on the horizon.
  • Successfully advocating for the States of Oregon and California to specify USRC ratings for new essential facilities.
  • Adoption as the standard for a major Bay Area developer’s future laboratory building projects.
  • USRC Rating System is included as qualifying criteria for HA Req. 4.0: Safer Design for Extreme Weather, Wildfire + Seismic Events in USGBC’s RELi® standard.

We know that being embedded within financial system practices is vital to achieving our long-term vision. To facilitate that, we are:

  • Beginning a project with one of the nation’s leading insurance brokers to incorporate USRC ratings into earthquake insurance pricing.
  • Working with one of the nation’s largest insurance brokers to justify insurance discounts for highly rated buildings.
  • Partnering with one of the nation’s largest credit rating agencies to make USRC ratings a component of their analytics platform.

These are examples of the ways we’re positioning ourselves to grow our impact. Additionally, we expanding our rating system development efforts to other natural and man-made hazards. Stakeholders from the broader disaster risk reduction community advised us early on: decision-makers need multi-hazard building performance information, too. Following a year of technical committee work, we’ll be completing a USRC Wind Rating System in 2022. Further responding to the needs of a climate-changing world, we applied for a FEMA grant in collaboration with the Applied Technology Council to develop a Wildfire Rating System.

Our original mission for the USRC was to provide tools to our members, who could then lead the effort to promote the benefits of resilient design and USRC ratings to their clients. It became clear after a couple of years that this was a difficult task for our members, and that the USRC needed to change course and become more of a catalyst and leader in growing the market for resilient design. This meant spending more time engaging and educating stakeholders and building owners and developing strategies that would encourage the use of building rating systems, for earthquakes and other hazards. We believe that the USRC’s accomplishments and current initiatives are actively raising the demand for resilient design.  As one of our Founding Members recently said, “We consider the USRC an extension of our own business development department by creating a demand for resilient design.” That is core to why will still have their support today.