Caribbean Disaster Mitigation Project
Implemented by the Organization of American States
Unit of Sustainable Development and Environment
for the USAID Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance and the Caribbean Regional Program


Hazard-resistant Construction

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.

Building Codes

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.

Lifeline facilities/critical infrastructure

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 storm’s 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.

Costs and Benefits

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 CDMP’s web page, Investing in Mitigation: Costs and Benefits.

Mitigation Planning

Building codes are only one tool for increasing the built environment’s 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 CDMP’s Hazard Mitigation Planning resources page.

Hazard information

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..

Available Documents

Building Codes/Code Enforcement

  1. Diagrams for the OECS Building Guidelines. 1999. Document is in 8 sections [HTML, 2,875k total]. AutoCAD drawing files are also available for download through this document [.ZIP files containing DWG format AutoCAD files, 2,235k total].
  2. Reference Criteria for Consulting Services for Infrastructure Projects: Executive Summary and Part 1: Guidelines for Owners [HTML 66k], Part 2: Guidelines for Maintenance [HTML 13k], Part 3: Notes for the Consulting Engineer [HTML 14k], Appendices [HTML, multiple parts total 850k]
  3. Caribbean Building Inspector Training Courses: A Review [HTML 60k]
  4. Building Inspector Training Course: Final Report by the Barbados Community College [HTML 120k]
  5. Building for Safety in Hazardous Areas. This document was written by Jinx Parker and originally produced in 1982, to accompany the USAID-produced video, "Building for Safety." (HTML 25k).
  6. Building Codes: The Failure of Public Policy to Institutionalize Good Practice.This document was written by Jinx Parker and originally published in Environmental and Urban Issues (Vol XXI, No 4, Summer 1994). (HTML 9k).

Safe Construction Techniques, Guidelines and Minimum Standards

  1. Basic Minimum Standards for Retrofitting. May 1997. (HTML 700k)
  2. Make the Right Connections. A Manual on Safe Construction Techniques. November 1995. Available in HTML (30 individual pages, each approx 35k) and Microsoft PowerPoint97 format (large: 2.6mb).

Safer Construction in Lifeline Infrastructure

  1. Hurricane Vulnerability and Risk Analysis of the VINLEC Transmission and Distribution System. July 1996. [HTML 1200k]
  2. Natural Hazards Vulnerability of the Dominica Hydroelectric Expansion Project. [HTML 1,600k]
  3. Vulnerability Audit. St. Lucia Electricity Services Ltd. Inception Report [HTML 560k] and Final Report [HTML 750k]


  1. Hurricane Resistant Home Improvement Program: Toolkit. Revised December 1999. (HTML 75k)
  2. Safer Building Toolkit for Credit Unions. December 1998. (HTML 160k).
  3. Proceedings of the 1999 Workshop on the CDMP Hurricane-resistant Home Improvement Program. December 1999. (HTML 115k)
  4. Buildings and Infrastructure Project: A Case Study of Caribbean Infrastructure Projects that have Failed Due to the Effects of Natural Hazards. (HTML 195k)
  5. Cost/Benefits of Disaster Mitigation in the Construction Industry. A Case Study. January 1995. (HTML 42k).
  6. Estimation of Building Damage as a Result of Hurricanes in the Caribbean (A Primer). June 1996 (HTML 325k).
CDMP home page: Project Contacts Page Last Updated: 20 April 2001