Is Designing For Resiliency The New Normal?
While world leaders gathered this week at the G-7 Summit in Germany discussed the impacts of climate change globally, Robin Guenther, a principal with Perkins+Will (New York office), is focusing on what it means to healthcare facilities in the U.S.
Recently, Guenther, who worked on New York’s Building Resilience Task Force following Superstorm Sandy and is co-author of "Sustainable Healthcare, Architecture, Second Edition," authored a new healthcare report and toolkit as part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan.
The initiative of the White House and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is designed to increase access to information on climate change and the built environment. Guenther’s contribution includes ideas and best practices on mitigating the effects of extreme weather events as related to climate change on U.S. healthcare facilities.
The toolkit includes checklists organized around five steps to help a system figure out its vulnerabilities relating to issues such as building and architecture, mechanical/electrical, critical medical services, and eco-system adaptations.
“It’s not prescriptive,” she says. “Once you see what your vulnerabilities are, you have to prioritize those and address them, whether it means making a physical change or becoming part of a network so you have an alternate site [for emergency care].”
Planning for resiliency isn’t new to healthcare design. Facilities, including those in Florida, New York, Massachusetts, and Missouri, have been dealing with the impacts of natural disasters for many years and learning how to adapt their facility designs to address these issues. These case studies have raised the bar on resilient design and provided lessons for the industry at-large. (For a recent example, read Jennifer Kovacs Silvis’ article on Mercy Hospital Joplin’s new resilient replacement hospital, featured in Healthcare Design’s May issue.)
But Guenther says now is the time to expand the conversation about climate change and resilient design to other facilities—those that aren’t located in coastal regions or Tornado Alley.
Why? “The geography is shifting on [extreme weather events,]” Guenther says, pointing to droughts and forest fires in California, flooding in the Midwest, and the polar vortex effect which brought ice and snow to Atlanta.
In addition, the design thresholds on many existing healthcare buildings isn’t designed to withstand these changes. “The duration of these weather events is longer and what people are finding is that their emergency generators were never meant to run for 96 hours, they’re meant for short-term emergencies,” she says.
Guenther says she understands that getting an owner or operator to think long-term and figure out what climate change might have in store for their region decades from now—and then adapting their current build designs to handle those issues—can be a challenge, especially in an industry traditionally focused on avoiding new costs.
“Resiliency challenges emergency management people because it’s got a longer horizon,” she says. “But when you’re making a huge capital investment in a hospital, you do want to have an answer for how the building is going to perform in the weather 50 years from now.”
So what's the next step?