As a nation and an industry, we are in the middle of an unprecedented crisis that is impacting the health and economic well-being of millions of Americans. Given the magnitude of the destruction, it’s hard to predict a time when things will get back to normal.
But one thing is certain: as we find our way through the crisis, we need resilient buildings now to help house the sick and the people who care for them, facilitate distribution of food for the millions who are sheltering in their homes, and warehouse materials that keep supplies lines open. Just as certain, when the Coronavirus is finally stalled and Americans are back at work, at school, and at play, there will be an immediate and ongoing need for structures to shelter all these activities.
In fact, for some sectors, the closures are providing an even better opportunity than during normal times. FacilitiesNet reports this week that “many of the nation’s school districts are springing into action. For many maintenance and engineering managers, the absence of students, staff and faculty throughout their buildings means areas of facilities that are generally inaccessible are now prime targets for a variety of maintenance, repair and upgrade projects.” In Lynchburg, Virginia, a $24 million dollar addition to one of the areas middle schools will actually be accelerated, and completed earlier than scheduled.
The bottom line is that existing buildings need to be maintained in good repair. Likewise, the construction industry needs to be able to seize the opportunities presented by this crisis to ensure that the built environment is ready to go when the economy restarts. The construction business, including roofing, is essential now and will be essential to the economic rebound in the future.
One additional factor: beyond the extreme challenges presented by the pandemic, we will continue to have to contend with extreme weather events. According to NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, in 2019 there were 14 “weather and climate disaster events”, each causing at least $1 billion in damage and collectively causing the deaths of 44 people. These included wildfires, two “tropical cyclones”, three inland floods, and eight severe storms. NOAA statistics also detail the increasing frequency of these events: during the last four decades, the annual average was 6.5 disaster events. During the last five years, between 2015 and 2019, the annual average rose to 13.8 events. There is no reason to think that this trend will slow during the summer, fall and winter of 2020. Extreme weather is not going to pause to let a coronavirus run its course, and neither should we, as we create a resilient environment to protect ourselves during these disasters..
In the face of this pending threat, the construction industry should be classified as essential throughout the 50 states, because it is essential – essential to maintain the condition of existing buildings that are helping to ease our path forward during the current crisis, and essential to build and maintain resilient structures that will withstand the increasingly extreme weather long after this pandemic is over.