A large portion of the wealth of any nation is invested in its built environment: housing, infrastructure, industrial and commercial facilities. The quality of this built environment, expressed in terms of durability, safety, and functionality, is a determining factor in the quality of life and economic development of the society and the competitiveness of its industry and services.
The Caribbean region is affected by a wide range of natural hazards: tropical storms, earthquakes, flooding, landslides, and volcanoes. Many factors determine the resilience of the built environment to the effects of these hazards, including appropriate design and location, construction quality and maintenance. Performance of the built environment, in turn, can determine both the magnitude of the losses and the speed of recovery from hazard events.
The building regulatory system plays an important role in ensuring the quality of the built environment. Common components of the regulatory system are building codes, land use zoning and development plans, and an inspection mechanism to enforce adherence to the code and plans. Enforcement is generally the weakest part of the system, often due to lack of human and financial resources allocated to this function and political interference with the regulatory system.
Building Codes are standards and guidelines for construction of buildings to ensure a minimum level of safety for the occupants. An appropriate building code incorporates a thorough understanding of the forces that natural hazards impose on the area governed by the code. The Caribbean Uniform Building Code (CUBiC) was developed to provide appropriate building standards for the Caribbean region. In the Eastern Caribbean, a model building code, based on CUBiC, has been developed to facilitate the introduction of national codes. National codes and accompanying guidelines have been adopted in Antigua and Barbuda, and Dominica. Code development work is underway in St. Lucia, Grenada and Belize. The CDMP also produced an updated and expanded set of drawings for the building guidelines documents. These drawings are available in both graphical and AutoCAD formats. CDMP has developed a draft matrix showing the status of building codes in territories throughout the Caribbean.
In September, 1998, a Forum on Building Codes and Standards in the Caribbean and Central America was held in Puerto Rico. Representatives of 31 nations attended this forum and adopted a Declaration of Cooperative Action. This Declaration contains recommended actions in three areas: 1) Uniform codes and code adoption, 2) Codes enforcement, education and training and 3) Disaster resistant affordable housing and insurance.
Compliance with code and plans works best in a system which provides education of engineers and builders on code application, and where lenders and insurers work together to provide incentives for developers and property owners who comply with the regulations. To assist owners and engineers with the incorporation of hazard issues into building design, CDMP supported the development of the document Reference Criteria for Consulting Services for Infrastructure Projects. Compliance with regulations in building design, however, is not sufficient to guarantee that a structure will perform adequately when impacted by the wind or seismic forces for which it was designed. To assist with the proper enfocement of new and existing codes, CDMP supported the Barbados Community College in the organization and implementation of a three-week course for building inspectors, in Fall 1999. This is the second such course offered in the region, following a similar course mounted in the early 1990s by CAST (now UTECH) in Jamaica. A review of these two courses and a final report from the BCC course are available. Workmanship, attention to detail, and maintenance of correctly designed buildings are also important, but almost impossible to enforce. Instead, these behaviors can only be influenced by public education and awareness.
Further discussions of these issues are available in the documents Building for Safety in Hazardous Areas and Building Codes: The Failure of Public Policy to Institutionalize Good Practice.
In the case of critical facilities, such as emergency shelters and hospitals, the minimum standards set in a national building code may be insufficient, as these facilities must continue to function through a hazard event, rather than just survive it. Higher standards, vulnerability audits and targeted upgrades can be applied to safeguard these facilities. For example, 1998 the CDMP and the OAS Natural Hazards Project (with funding from USAID and ECHO, respectively) undertook a school/shelter vulnerability reduction program in the Eastern Caribbean. The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) has conducted similar programs for the safeguarding of hospitals throughout the hemisphere.
Highly specialized facilities, such as ports and electrical power generation networks, require specialized treatment as well. CDMP has assisted the Caribbean Electrical Cooperative (CARILEC) and its member utilities by the development of the Manual for Caribbean Electrical Utilities Addressing the issue of Mitigation of Damage Caused by Natural Hazards to Civil Works, and by conducting vulnerability audits for hydroelectric power facilities in Dominica, electrical power facilities in St. Lucia and transmission and distribution systems in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Subsequent to Hurricane Luis, CDMP undertook a case study of the storms effects on the Antigua Public Utilities Authority. Further information on these studies is available on the CDMP's Papers and Publications web page.
Tourism is central to the economy of many countries in the Caribbean. To help secure this critical economic lifeline, CDMP collaborated with the Caribbean Hotel Association/Caribbean Tourism Organization (CHA/CTO) in the 1998 update to the Hurricane Procedures Manual. CDMP developed the structural vulnerability reduction chapter for his manual.
One of the arguments against the development and enforcement of appropriate building codes and standards is that they make development costs prohibitive. Studies undertaken in the Caribbean by the CDMP and others of the construction industry and of infrastructure that has failed due to natural hazards, have shown this to be false. Further information on these studies available on the CDMPs web page, Investing in Mitigation: Costs and Benefits.
Building codes are only one tool for increasing the built environments resilience in the face of natural hazards. Land use planning, emergency management, natural resource protection and infrastructure development policies play significant roles as well. Coordination of these activites can be achieved through comprehensive hazard mitigation planning. A full explanation of this process is available on the CDMPs Hazard Mitigation Planning resources page.
Designing appropriate standards and mitigation programs for natural hazards requires a solid understanding of the distribution, magnitude and frequency of those hazards. To this end, CDMP has undertaken numerous storm hazard modeling activities throughout the region and a multi-hazard assessment for the Kingston, Jamaica, Metropolitan Area. Regional information on seismic hazards, and return periods for maximum winds and storm surge resulting from tropical storms produced by the CDMP can guide the selection of appropriate standards for construction..
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