The New York City Buildings Resiliency Task Force Presents Recommendations

Posted by on Jun 15, 2013

A wide-angle thermograph of a block in Brooklyn showing one row-house that is superinsulated–and will maintain habitable temperatures in the event of an extended power outage. IR thermograph: Sam McAfee, sgBuild, from the Buildings Resiliency Task Force Report.

In December 2012, the Urban Green Council in New York City assembled a Buildings Resiliency Task Force at the request of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. I was among more than 200 members of that Task Force, which was organized into four building-type committees (Commercial Buildings, Multi-family Residential Buildings, Critical Buildings, and Homes (1-, 2- and 3-family) and three Working Groups (Structure, Façade, and Interiors; Electrical and IT; and HVACR, Plumbing and Fire Protection).

The Task Force presented their findings at a press conference with Bloomberg and Quinn, on Thursday, June 13th. Urban Green published a nicely laid out, 40-page Summary Report as well as a much longer, 185-page report that includes detail on each of the 33 proposals being presented to the City.

The report proposes five levels of action for the different proposals and building types. For a very small number of measures, Required Action is proposed. This means that the action should be required even for existing buildings—necessitating retrofits. Examples include providing access to water in multifamily residential buildings at a level in the buildings where municipal pressure will deliver the water (so that residents on upper floors will have access if pumps in the building are inoperable) and keeping gas stations open when the utility grid is down.

New Code proposals would be incorporated into buildings codes that apply to new construction and major upgrades. Examples include measures to prevent sewage backflow in all building types, keeping multifamily residential stairwells lit during power outages, and ensuring that toilets and sinks work without power in all building types.

Some of the proposals are suggested as Removing Barriers to more resilient buildings. Examples include barriers to increased use of cogeneration in larger buildings, barriers solar energy, and barriers to elevating buildings and building systems to minimize flood risk.

Grace Chow helping a resident of a residential building in Chinatown get water for her 20th-floor apartment on November 1, 2012 in the wake of Superstorm Sandy. Photo: Craig Ruttle, AP, from the Buildings Resiliency Task Force Report.

Other proposals are Recommended Practices to enhance resilience, but would not be mandated. Such proposals include capturing stormwater to prevent flooding, providing quick connects for temporary generations and boilers in large buildings, and enhancing building water reserves (such as the water towers on top of buildings that are no longer mandated in New York).

Finally, some of the most forward-thinking proposals are listed as requiring Further Action; for these the report recommends either additional consideration by the City or extending the mandate of the Task Force through the fall of 2013 to come up with specific recommendations. Examples of these proposals include maintaining habitable temperatures without power (a measure that was initially being referred to as “passive survivability” in the meetings I attended) and ensuring operable windows in multifamily residential buildings. These measures, should they end up as code changes could have huge impact in changing the way buildings are built in the City.

A building at NYU retained power because of its combined heat and power or cogeneration plant, while most of the surrounding area was dark following Superstorm Sandy. Photo: Ken Micallef, from the Buildings Resiliency Task Force Report.

This was a monumental effort by the staff of Urban Green and the many, many people who volunteered over 5,000 hours over five months. Hats off to Russell Unger, Cecil Scheib, and the other staff at Urban Green who pulled this off so effectively. If the Task Force continues work on the Further Action measures, I hope to remain involved. I think there’s huge opportunity here.

The Summary Report as well as full report can be downloaded from the Urban Green website.

Along with founding the Resilient Design Institute in 2012, Alex is founder of BuildingGreen, Inc. and executive editor of Environmental Building News. To keep up with his latest articles and musings, you can sign up for his Twitter feed.


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