By Duke Graham
To couple sustainability and resilience feels like giving in a little. In a sense, sustainability is preventing things from going wrong. And resilience is being ready for when they do go wrong. These are not complete definitions of course, and the link between the two ideas is deep and significant. Since shocks and stresses to our communities and systems are inevitable, it’s clear that being prepared and responsive will facilitate our sustained safety and prosperity.
The commissioning process, a cornerstone of sustainability strategy in the built environment, resides in the Venn Diagram overlap between the sustainability and resilience. Like a fire drill, other critical systems should be tested periodically to ensure their readiness when needed. In addition to verifying energy efficiency and reduced emissions, commissioning on an ongoing basis is important tool for evaluating and managing risk from a variety of scenarios. Indeed, Retro-Commissioning is included as a key to Step 3 of the Building Resilience Los Angeles – A Primer for Facilities, a Project of USGBC-LA (link). To support resilience, the commissioning process should be applied to systems that will be critical during emergencies. These include not only fire and life safety systems, but energy generation and storage, water supply and purification equipment, and food supply systems, among others.
Particularly in large cities, the importance of connected resources and access to data is enormous. When emergencies happen, key buildings and infrastructure will play critical roles in supporting the community. Data and trend analysis is a key component of ongoing commissioning of systems. Real-time snapshots of actual operations under different conditions provide a more complete verification that a system is working as intended. “Big Data” is a charged concept, and many challenges lie in the creation of data frameworks for resilience. But it’s possible that valuable resilience data is already being, or could be, collected and conditioned to help make decisions during emergencies.
For example, an earthquake or fire could interrupt water and power supplies to many people. A database of stored energy and water with actual capacity, quality and accessibility data could be used to direct the resources to those who need them. Electricity infrastructure technology is probably closer to realizing this goal. Smart grids can isolate local grids and tap into local storage and renewables to provide stable power for critical systems. An analogous smart water “grid” could provide emergency water supplies by emulating the protocols of the electrical counterpart. And like, or even during, drills like the Great Shakeout, these systems should be tested and verified as part of routing ongoing commissioning.
The City of LA is already requiring buildings to benchmark their energy use. The EBEWE ordinance uses an existing data platform, Energy Star Portfolio Manager (link) to manage the data. This platform has fields for water and even waste management. With some minor additions, useful resilience data could be mined from this and other platforms. A simple list of certain building types with a minimum amount of renewable or stored energy/water could be a valuable resource to make us more prepared and responsive.
Commissioning provides confidence that systems will work right when called on. To be fully prepared to respond to shocks or stressors, commissioning should be integrated into resilience frameworks and policy.