Federal Government Initiatives Drive Push toward Resilient Infrastructure - (Resilience Part 1)

***See also, AGC’s Resilience Series Part 2: Preparing Buildings for the Next Natural Disaster***

Resilient infrastructure initiatives have been brought to the forefront by superstorms such as Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and the Obama Administration’s Climate Action Plan the following year.  The Administration has directed Federal agencies to factor climate resilience into their programs and provide information and resources for the states and local governments to improve disaster preparedness and resilience.  These initiatives are now underway and may lead to changes in how we build infrastructure, commercial, and residential spaces in the coming years and decades.  This two part series will look first at ongoing efforts within Federal agencies and local communities on general resilience (Part 1) and then at specific resilience initiatives related to buildings (Part 2).

Resilience is commonly defined as the ability to prepare and plan for, absorb, recover from, and more successfully adapt to adverse events.  Adverse events could include natural disasters such as wildfires, prolonged drought, flooding, extreme temperatures, earthquakes, tornados or high winds, and superstorms (e.g., blizzards, hurricanes).  It could also include industrial disasters, infrastructure collapse (e.g., power grid failure), and acts of terror.  A measure of a community’s resilience is having a functioning plan in place that protects human life and maintains vital services during an adverse event, or shortens the time needed to bring these services and local businesses back online.

The White House has issued a comprehensive Climate Action Plan and executive orders (EOs) directing Federal agencies to take specific steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to prepare for climate resilience, which will impact construction projects and delivery.  Multiple executive orders direct agencies to identify climate risks, factor climate resilience into programs and investments, coordinate across agencies and with the states, support local communities in their resilience efforts, take specific steps at the agency-level to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, set energy efficiency and conservation goals, and protect water resources, among other goals.  For a summary of the plan and executive orders, see the “Summary of White House Directives” section below.

General contractors have already seen heightened interest in climate change and resiliency in the news concerning the Clean Power Plan (currently on hold pending judicial review), establishing greenhouse gas reporting requirements for large industrial operations (e.g., cement production), and new standards for emissions and fuel economy in vehicles and trucks — as well as the growth of energy efficient buildings, the prevalence of small-scale green infrastructure projects, local efforts to reduce stormwater runoff from developed sites, and an increased market for renewable energy.  A very recent example of an outcome from the White House directives is the proposed amendment to the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) that would require some Federal vendors and contractors to indicate whether they publically disclose greenhouse gas emissions and reduction goals or targets.  (See Observer article on the proposed amendment.)

For their part, the Federal agencies have established several climate resilience initiatives and are making use of third-party programs, such as the Envision Rating Tool.  The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), for example, makes available extensive online resources on dam safety, floods, earthquakes, and hazard mitigation.  FEMA also is exploring the use of “disaster deductibles” for its Public Assistance Program, wherein states can earn credits towards their deductible requirements by pre-planning for disasters.  In another example, the Department of Homeland Security has extensive web-based resources to help improve the security and resilience of critical infrastructure as well as reduce damage to the structural and nonstructural components of buildings in the event of terrorist attack or other manmade and natural hazards.  For links to several of the Federal agencies’ initiatives, see the “Federal Agencies’ Initiatives – General Resilience” section below.

Local communities also are exploring ways to shore up their resilience, and contractors working in these areas will likely see more of an interest in building more resilient structures, energy and water security, and green communities.  Small towns across the United States are looking to set up utilities, incorporate stormwater fees for the first time or to raise those fees, and find solutions to localized flooding — these efforts are partly in response to consent decrees for Clean Water Act violations.  Cities are hiring resilience officers (e.g., Boston, New York, New Orleans, and Pittsburgh) and developing preparedness plans, such as this one for Grand Rapids.  Communities also are embracing green community strategies and using tools, such as STAR Communities, as a guide for planning.  Green community attributes can include public green buildings and incentives for private green buildings and homes, green roads and streets, green infrastructure and public works programs, energy efficiency and renewable energy at a government level and incentives for private buildings, clean water resources and water conservation, curbside recycling, tree protection and maintenance, greenspaces, green business recognition and incentives, local economic development, community outreach and education, cultural and heritage considerations, as well as public health and wellbeing programs.  (See Observer article on green community programs.)

Resilience is a new buzzword at Federal and state governments, universities, research groups, codes and standards developers, and land use and planning groups, to business groups, professional societies, and associations.  The insurance and financial industries also are looking at businesses that are reducing their greenhouse gas emissions and demonstrating resilience in their operations, such as protections from disruptions in supply chains.  AGC also has been committed to raising awareness of this trend to members and to highlighting the need for infrastructure investment.  Specifically, with the approval of the AGC Building Division, AGC was one of 21 associations and professional societies in the building industries to sign a joint industry statement on resilience back in May 2014.  AGC has regularly provided educational sessions on resilience during its annual Contractors Environmental Conference (for example, see the schedule for AGC’s 2016 CEC) and has frequently highlighted resiliency-related news. (Follow AGC’s Twitter account for environmental news and trends at @AGCEnvironment.)

AGC will publish Resilience Part 2 focusing on initiatives related to buildings in the next issue of AGC’s Environmental Observer.  For more information on resilience or green construction, contact Melinda Tomaino at

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Summary of White House Directives

The 2013 White House Climate Action Plan

  • Directs the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to establish carbon standards for new and existing power plants;
  • Makes loan guarantees and permitting available for advanced fossil fuel energy and efficiency projects, renewables;
  • Expands the Better Building Challenge;
  • Reduction goal for CO2 emissions by at least 3b tons by 2030;
  • Calls for fuel economy for vehicles (including heavy duty);
  • Addresses hydrofluorocarbons, methane, and other greenhouse gases; and
  • Protects forests and waters.

Oct. 2009 Executive Order 13514 (Archived):  Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance – Lays the foundation for the Nov. 2013 EO on climate resilience (see below) and, among other things, required federal agencies to develop adaption plans that evaluated their most significant climate related risks and vulnerabilities and identify actions they will take to mitigate those risks.  (EO 13514 was replaced by EO 13693, see below.)

Nov. 2013 Executive Order 13653:  Preparing the United States for the Impacts of Climate Change – Builds on the Oct. 2009 EO and charges agencies to modernize their programs to support infrastructure resilience.  “Reform policies and federal funding programs that may, perhaps unintentionally, increase vulnerability of natural or built systems, economic sectors, natural resources, or communities to climate change related risks.”  Directs agencies to support states, local communities and tribes. Requires agencies to build on their Agency Adaption Plans to include resilience improvements (including supply chain demands, building upgrades and new construction), more outreach and coordinated interagency efforts.

May 2015 Executive Order 13693:  Planning for Federal Sustainability in the Next Decade – Directs agencies to take specific steps at the agency-level to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, set energy efficiency and conservation goals, protect water resources, promote sustainable acquisition and procurement throughout the supply chain, and reduce waste among other goals.  In addition, this EO directs the seven largest procuring agencies “to implement procurements that take into consideration contractor GHG emissions…”.

Summary of Federal Agencies’ Initiatives – General Resilience

  • The Federal Emergency Management Agency launched its first Community Resilience Innovation Challenge in 2012.  FEMA makes available extensive online resources on preparing for floods, earthquakes, and other disasters.  FEMA also is exploring the use of “disaster deductibles” for its Public Assistance Program, wherein states can earn credits towards their deductible requirements by pre-planning for disasters.
  • The Department of Homeland Security has extensive web-based resources to help improve the security and resilience of critical infrastructure as well as reduce damage to the structural and nonstructural components of buildings in the event of terrorist attack or other manmade and natural hazards.  DHS also has an Integrated Rapid Visual Screening Series for Buildings, Mass Transit Stations, Tunnels and Airports as part of its Building and Infrastructure Protection Series.
  • The Department of Defense issued a January 2016 memorandum directing defense agencies and field activities to “adapt current and future operations to address the impacts of climate change in order to maintain an effective and efficient U.S. military.”  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also is very engaged in resilience efforts with an online toolkit in place that looks at site sustainability, site security, community resilience, buildings, and natural hazards and adaptation.
  • The Department of the Interior (DOI), Department of Agriculture (USDA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) have a joint project called the Resilient Lands and Waters Initiative.  This initiative is a part of the 2014 Climate and Natural Resources Priority Agenda (PDF, 8.9MB), a commitment across the Federal Government to support resilience of America’s natural resources.
  • The Department of Energy has performed an energy sector vulnerability report and has launched a “Partnership for Energy Sector Climate Resilience” with electrical utilities, among other projects.  DOE also is exploring the “energy-water nexus” where these systems are interconnected—for water treatment and delivery as well as for energy production.
  • EPA has several programs and community tools in place that covers basic information, EPA’s action plans for each region and program office, other Federal government resources and a host of government resources available on climate adaption and how it relates to—
    • Planning and preparedness;
    • Planning and preparedness;
    • Transportation and infrastructure;
    • Sustainability;
    • Water Utilities;
    • Stormwater, runoff, and flooding;
    • Coasts and estuaries;
    • Land use; and
    • Public health.
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