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Eric McDonald, Director, Testing & Infrastructure Development

By Eric McDonald,
Director, Testing & Infrastructure Development

Resilience in the built environment is essential in today’s connected, urban world, and continuous and safe operation of buildings and other infrastructure during unusual or calamitous events is a necessity for economic stability. Resilience encompasses many aspects outside of a structure’s physical ability to withstand disaster; it also includes the anticipatory strategies used to maintain operation of equipment, networks, building systems and infrastructure. Some of the most important parts of these strategies include backup power storage, indoor air quality maintenance and data and information technology (IT) security.

solar panels
residential battery storage unit

Having a reliable source of backup power increases building and system resilience, as operations can continue in the event of power interruption. As technology has advanced, options other than petroleum-fueled generators have become available that consider energy and environmental impacts. Renewable sources such as solar panels, for which installation prices have decreased, have become more appealing to home- or business owners. Though solar power does not provide a steady power source, it can be connected to batteries which store power for use on cloudy days or other times when sunlight is less prevalent. Electric vehicles have also become an option for backup power, as some battery models can transfer power to a battery storage unit. Outside of adding system resilience, battery storage options from solar, electric vehicle and other sources can cut energy use during peak energy demand periods, which can help to lower high demand fees. Buildings with backup power that don’t have to rely on an overtaxed power grid during service interruptions thus contribute not only to their own resilience, but to that of the system in which they operate.

Alongside battery power storage, building resilience is also affected by air quality. Over time, urban and industrial areas have grown the reputation for having polluted, unclean outdoor air quality. However, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) have found that many buildings actually have poorer indoor air quality than outdoor. Undesirable particulate matter can be airborne in buildings. Dust; material off-gasses from carpet, paint, etc.; cleaning products; viruses; and more all contribute to poor indoor air quality. Modern heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems are designed to pull in outdoor air to dilute indoor pollutants and exhaust indoor air. In addition, filters in these systems made to ASHRAE standards are capable of catching most bacteria and virus carriers, improving air quality even on the microscopic level. These advances in air quality control technology are paramount to building resistance and can directly impact the health and safety of building occupants, but underneath both battery power storage and HVAC controls lay the IT systems that control it all.

digital securityAs reliance on technology for everyday economic functions increases, data and IT have also become more essential to resilient business and building operations. Security for these systems means not only protecting them from outside cyber threats, but also from internal crashes and other inefficiencies that can leave businesses at risk of falling behind. There are various options for improving resilience here, including checking firewalls and uninterruptible power supplies regularly; however, as technology progresses, more and more businesses are moving their networks completely online. Buildings populated solely with computer servers are growing around the world, providing cloud-computing capabilities that keep organizations connected and even allow for inter- and intra-organization communication and handling of internal files. Businesses that have migrated to the cloud have freed their staff from server maintenance responsibilities and have simultaneously increased their cybersecurity as they diversify their modes of communication and system recovery.

Each of these methods — backup power and power storage, air quality maintenance and data and IT security — improves resilience. Changes in weather norms, greater strain on the electric grid, increased need for high indoor air quality and intrusions on and disruptions of data security and communication can adversely affect the built environment. However, as more methods are developed and applied on a daily basis that address the compounding issues of an advancing technological world, resilience established by these methods increases the system’s ability to withstand even the most disastrous event.

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