Natural disasters can take an incredible toll on the economy, lives and livelihoods. Ensuring buildings are resilient in the face of catastrophe can play a major role in minimizing the impact of disaster and speeding a return to normal.

Many of the nation’s most populated and fastest-growing regions—California, Texas and the coastal South among them—face the greatest risks from a variety of natural disasters including earthquakes, hurricanes, tornados and flooding.

But natural disasters aren’t only a concern in coastal areas—a list of states most at risk for major disasters based on Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) data includes Missouri, Arkansas and Kentucky along with more expected locales such as California and Florida.

Construction businesses everywhere should be aware of, and plan for, the potential impact of disaster in their regions. Tweet This  Among strategies to consider:

Don’t just focus on the headlines

While hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes are often top of mind, FEMA data suggests that severe storms, fires and flooding are much more common and have had a greater impact—than these widely-reported-on disasters. Builders should take into account these more common events as well as those that can cause significant disruption and damage including ice storms and severe drought.

Location, Location, Location

Construction firms in coastal areas should know the regulations governing buildings along vulnerable coastal areas, including the 1972 Coastal Zone Management Act and the rolling easements adopted by a handful of vulnerable states. But builders must also think about the impact of unpredictable weather in a broader range of places. Even beyond traditional floodplain considerations, climate change is manifesting itself in “sunny day” flooding in a growing number of areas.

Builders should plan ahead to avoid potential future problems. Avoid siting buildings in places most likely to be jeopardized by future flooding such as steep slopes, the bottoms of hills or mountains or the banks of rivers and streams.

Design with disaster in mind. Specific building designs, materials and construction practices can help mitigate damage from natural disasters. For example:

Roofs with multiple slopes and limited overhangs can better withstand high winds in hurricane-prone areas.

• Along with elevating buildings, water-resistant building materials such as concrete and additional waterproofing and flood barriers can help improve structural resilience in areas prone to flooding.

Drainage systems and landscaping can help provide stability in areas prone to landslides by diverting rainwater away from steep slopes and loose soil.

• Steel and wood framing both offer different benefits that help mitigate the impact of earthquakes over more rigid masonry and concrete structures.

Stronger building materials and specific construction techniques, including anchoring all structural elements (walls, floors, and roof framing) to the building’s foundation, can help improve the resilience of buildings. No building can withstand the impact of every natural disaster, but these strategies can mitigate property loss and save lives.

Check The Codes

Building codes are the bible of the construction business, and state and local governments in disaster-prone areas often detail specific requirements in building codes, such as using nails instead of staples to connect roofs to walls in hurricane-prone regions.

Along with ensuring your work meets—or exceeds—these local requirements, it may be worthwhile to study optional requirements, standards and best practices such as the ones for flood-resistant construction promulgated by the state of Oregon, which some localities have made mandatory. The National Institute of Building Sciences offers a collection of codes, standards, best practices and other resources on its website.

Pay Now or Pay Later

Clients may not like the added cost of mitigation measures but being proactive during construction is considerably less expensive than retrofitting later, not to mention reconstruction or costly repairs after disaster strikes.

It may be impossible to avoid the full impact of natural disasters but these strategies can help construction companies play a significant role in ensuring their communities can weather the storm.

Natural disasters aren’t the only risk that might affect your business, though an earthquake, flood, or tornado might have the most impact. Businesses face all types of risk, from employees to cyber security. Learn more about managing risk and protecting your business.

Photo Credit: aha888, Twenty20