Risk Mitigation Planning for Urban Coastal Flooding: An Architect’s Perspective

Risk Mitigation Planning for Urban Coastal Flooding: An Architect’s Perspective

Risk Mitigation Planning: Building-specific and Problem-specific

Storm resiliency in a post-Katrina and Sandy age is often discussed in terms of capacity to adapt to changing circumstances in a positive way. For the commercial building owner facing threats of urban coastal flooding, “capacity” is measured in increments: functionality, uptime, and bounce back.

Part risk assessment, part risk reduction, and part risk management, successful flood mitigation strategies share a common thread in that the building’s properties and siting are key factors in decision-making. Effective risk mitigation planning, which is rarely about procuring absolutes, offers facility managers and owners with building-specific and problem-specific solutions to tackle a spectrum of requirements.

An architect’s most valuable role in flood mitigation planning is helping a building owner navigate the feasibility of various approaches and available resources. Recommendations are ideally based on quantifiable building and project-specific data. Having sufficient information about your building and the particular challenges it would face during a storm directly correlates with how targeted and effective the mitigation measures undertaken are. In general, information gathering and analysis leads to three categories of risk mitigation planning objectives: how to make your building structure and foundation less vulnerable to flooding and storm surge, how to protect critical building systems, and, ultimately, how to sustain operations before, during, and after an emergency event.

In October 2012, 55 Water Street, a 3.5 million SF building located in Southern Manhattan, experienced significant flooding and damage from Superstorm Sandy. To position the building for future events, a flood mitigation plan was created that focused on critical components of strategic, effective pre-planning for a flood event in an urban coastal environment.  Due to the buildings’ location in lower Manhattan, the building is a great example of how risk mitigation planning is addressed from an architectural perspective; which maintains that knowing your building, specifically its existing and contextual conditions, is key to implementing successful mitigation measures. Also implemental to the plans success is that a building owner must assemble the right team of expert resources while considering the logistics of the approval process, and for a mitigation plans impact on facility operations and occupants.

Once your flood mitigation plan is in place, the question then becomes, how will your plan impact operations, facility management, and occupants of your building? Following the experience of Super Storm Sandy and the flood protection investments, the owners of 55 Water Street implemented a proactive plan that is known as a Flood Action Chronology that outlines a 96-hour preparation countdown to a storm event that allowed them feel confidently prepared for any upcoming weather event.   

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