The devastating 2017 hurricane season reinforced for us that “building for resilience” means more than investing in hurricane-resistant windows, doors, and roofing. It can also mean building for specific types of storms and timing construction with the hurricane season. In all cases, it means creating and executing detailed plans to ensure that properties and residents are able to weather the impact and recover quickly. And it means capturing lessons learned for next time.

Vince Bennett
Vince Bennett

In Galveston, Texas, we recently opened two mixed-income housing communities to replace public housing destroyed in 2008 by Hurricane Ike. In both developments, we placed living areas (and utilities) 12 feet above the ground. Noting that unsightly “stilts” are not conducive to security and walkability, we masked them with walls, false shutters, and doors to give the appearance of a typical, Victorian-style Galveston streetscape. In the back, the space under the stilts became secure carports.

When Hurricane Harvey approached Galveston in 2017, our property managers checked through long lists of preparatory actions. Residents had time to move their cars and then safely shelter in place. Even with 30 inches of rain, the properties suffered only minor damage.

Right after Harvey, hurricanes Irma and Maria hit Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI). In San Juan, our nearly completed Renaissance Square community saw minimal damage, due to our contractor’s preparations. Our biggest lesson learned related to insurance: Moving forward, our contracts will better detail what’s covered by builder’s risk and what’s covered in the owner’s policy.

Our USVI communities fared less well in Hurricane Maria. Our MBS-developed property had minimal damage, but the overall devastation to the islands affected residents, staff, and vendors. Telecommunications capabilities, labor, power, food, cash, and fresh water were in short supply for an extended period of time. There was nowhere to go that was unscathed.

In response, our employees on the mainland raised money for their island-based colleagues, which we matched. We also sent containers filled with personal necessities, as well as generators, building supplies, and more. For the future, we’ve updated our resiliency plans to include not just pre-impact preparation and post-impact recovery, but plans for the potential long-term needs of properties, staff, and residents.

Vince Bennett is president of McCormack Baron Salazar (MBS). An innovator in community and urban revitalization, the St. Louis–based firm has built more than 21,000 homes.