A Comprehensive Analysis of Designing for Resiliency

In an ever-evolving world, each decision we make carries an extensive ripple effect, influencing not only our immediate surroundings but also shaping the wider world. Our collective awareness has grown over the years to recognize that our resources are not limitless, and that it is our shared responsibility to safeguard our planet. The next phase in this journey of growth and understanding is to grasp and apply the concept of resiliency, particularly in the context of our built environment.

Resiliency, in the fields of architecture and urban planning, embodies the capacity to endure, adapt, and recover swiftly from a broad spectrum of adverse events. These events may range from natural disasters such as floods and earthquakes, to human-induced issues like infrastructure failures. While resiliency fundamentally pertains to preparedness and robust recovery strategies, it also represents a wider vision of sustainable living and the establishment of future-proof societies.

Designing for resilience necessitates a forward-thinking approach that transcends merely conforming to basic building codes and regulations. It involves a comprehensive understanding of potential future risks and vulnerabilities, with a proactive mindset to mitigate these potential threats before they become real issues. This practice of resilient design weaves together meticulous planning and extensive knowledge of the complex interaction between the built environment and potential disasters, all underpinned by a commitment to sustainability.

Devil’s Lake Rural Fire Department

Two recent projects in our Public Safety Design sector are great examples of the synergies that considering sustainability can achieve. Fargo Fire Department and Devil’s Lake Rural Fire Department in North Dakota are very different departments. Still, both had the same issue: how to protect their proposed building projects from future weather-related events and how to do it on a budget.

Fargo Fire Department Station No. 8

The Fargo Fire Department is a career department with soon to have 8 stations. Fargo itself is a major metropolitan city within its region. Fargo Fire Station No. 8 was planned and budgeted for before the inflationary period that followed the pandemic. During early design meetings, Fire Chief Steven Dirksen recognized the budget challenge and was clear that quality construction was not to be sacrificed to achieve the budget. He directed the team to develop a resilient building that would withstand strong, straight-line winds common in the upper Midwest while respecting the pre-established budget.

The design team went to work analyzing different building systems seeking a system that maximized the resilient characteristics of the building envelope for minimal investment. Precast concrete panels met this criterion. However, these decisions were not without sacrifices. For example, the project’s scope was scaled back from accommodating two fire companies to only one. Also, the department accepted an increased construction timeline, a common challenge on precast structures, especially smaller precast buildings such as fire stations. When complete with its extended construction schedule, the final product bid within the project budget will be an essential element of the City of Fargo’s fire response, especially if there should be a weather-related event.

Devil’s Lake Rural Fire Department is a volunteer organization supported by several rural townships south of Devils Lake, North Dakota. Like many departments in recent years, there has been growth in the community, and they have outgrown their current station. Their project also included resolving issues in the fire industry surrounding exposure on fire scenes to more carcinogenic materials by creating a proper decontamination process for their gear and personnel after fire calls.

Their existing 50-year-old building was constructed of precast concrete and was determined to be in good condition. When discussions of budget and potential cost were brought to the table, the Devils Lake Rural Fire Department made it clear that a building at least as resilient as their existing facility was needed even though lesser cost solutions existed, that would be incrementally less resilient. Unfortunately, Devils Lake Rural Fire Department is no longer in the vicinity of any precast plants, and a quick analysis showed there would be a premium to be paid for those construction materials. The team ultimately proceeded with a masonry cavity wall construction that will provide the same resiliency against intense storms with more locally available building materials.

When it comes to critical infrastructure – public safety buildings, hospitals, emergency communication centers, and similar facilities – resiliency is not just important, but essential. Such establishments must remain fully functional and efficient 24/7, even during emergencies. They must be robust enough to endure a wide array of environmental hazards, from high-speed winds to torrential rains, from earthquakes to blizzards. This resilience should be factored into the design and planning of these facilities, accommodating not only current requirements but also the anticipation of future challenges.

However, the scope of resiliency extends beyond safeguarding human lives during disasters. It includes protecting the critical infrastructure that serves as the lifeblood of communities. For instance, consider the potential impact if a fire station were to suffer extensive damage during a disaster and become non-operational for an extended period. This would leave the community it serves without vital safety services for weeks, possibly months. Therefore, the investment in resilient building design is crucial for ensuring that communities can maintain their safety and functionality even during crises.

Such investments in resilience, although they might appear significant in the short term, often yield substantial savings in the long term. This is because a resilient design can minimize the extent of damage and downtime in the event of a disaster, which would otherwise be considerably more expensive to rectify and recover from.

While resiliency is undoubtedly a key component of sustainable development, it is equally essential not to neglect other vital elements such as the integration of renewable energy sources, the use of eco-friendly building materials, and the implementation of intelligent and adaptive transportation systems. However, by making resiliency a central tenet of our sustainability efforts, we can establish a strong and durable foundation that will enable us to navigate future challenges and construct a more sustainable world for ourselves and future generations.

The pursuit of a resilient future calls for an integrated, holistic approach that seamlessly blends sustainability and resiliency into every facet of building design and urban planning. Instead of viewing sustainability and resilience as competing objectives, we should aim for their harmonious co-existence. Achieving this balance can lead to true added value – a future that is both resilient and sustainable, and well-equipped to face any foreseeable and unforeseen challenges.

In conclusion, resilience is far more than an optional add-on. It is a necessity, an investment in our future, and a commitment to safeguarding our communities against the unpredictable forces of change. By delving deep into the intricacies of resilient design, we can equip ourselves with the knowledge and tools needed to protect our infrastructure and communities. This enables us to build a world that’s not just prepared to weather any storm but is also capable of emerging stronger and more resilient in its aftermath. Resilience is much more than a mere buzzword or concept; it is a powerful, vital tool for building safer, more sustainable societies that are resilient in the face of whatever challenges the future might hold.

Michael Clark, AIA | Director of Public Safety Design

As EAPC’s Public Safety Design Director, Michael has dedicated 35 years to public sector design, collaborating with multiple fire departments and law enforcement agencies. His expertise encompasses strategic planning for various public facilities and advocating for resilient, health-oriented design. Renowned nationally, Michael focuses on mitigating health risks in fire services and integrating safety strategies into architectural design.

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