RESTON, Va. – Leaders from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), and the University of Maryland (UMD) Center for Technology and Systems Management held a summit today to discuss how the nation’s engineering profession can account for climate change in the design and construction of future building and infrastructure projects. A new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was unveiled during the summit, detailing the ways that NOAA’s science and products will be used to inform the building and civil engineering codes, standards and best practice manuals developed by ASCE.
The collaboration began in November 2021, but the urgency of the work was underscored this year when NOAA calculated that 2022 was the third most costly year on record for weather and climate-related disasters, with 18 events costing over $165 billion in total damages. Disasters are also happening more often, with the number of days between billion-dollar disasters dropping from 82 days in 1980 to just 18 days in 2022.
“These statistics, while daunting, present an opportunity for us to take stock, and use this data to help prepare for the impacts of climate change,” said Rick Spinrad, Ph.D., NOAA administrator. “Sustained partnerships like this one are key to this effort, and will help foster a Climate-Ready Nation where individuals, businesses, and industries have the knowledge and tools to take action to mitigate risk and support economic growth."
“Addressing current and long-term challenges facing communities across the nation and globe from extreme weather events requires close collaboration among the science and engineering communities,” said Tom Smith, Executive Director of ASCE. “We are delighted and honored to work in partnership with NOAA to combat these challenges with solutions that will ensure our critical infrastructure networks are safe, efficient, sustainable and reliable for everyone.”
The partnership and new MOU between NOAA and ASCE will be facilitated by UMD and is aimed at helping create a stronger, more resilient future for a key sector of the U.S. economy. The U.S. invests over $1.5 trillion annually in the design, construction and maintenance of homes, businesses, transportation systems, industrial centers and other components of the built environment, according to a 2023 U.S. Census Bureau report. This sector enables millions of jobs, including more than seven million jobs in construction alone.
The partnership and MOU will also focus on inequities in climate resilience. NOAA research shows how low-income communities suffer more damage and are at greater risk from extreme events. Additionally, the effects of climate change on vulnerable populations are frequently compounded by exacerbating other risks, such as inland flooding, urban heat islands and poor air quality. To address these inequities, NOAA and ASCE will work together to identify particular needs for climate-resilient infrastructure in urban, rural and low-income communities, as an example.
Through expert dialogues and workshops, NOAA’s scientists are gaining a better understanding of the specific needs of ASCE, and how to meet them with either off-the-shelf information or potentially new products. To date, technical exchanges have focused on how several key climate-related risks, such as extreme temperatures, rainfall events, changing wind patterns and coastal hazards, can affect the built environment.
Information from today’s summit will inform future exchanges and conversations, including a pair of conferences next fall focused on “future-ready” infrastructure: ASCE’s 2023 Convention in Chicago next October and a November conference called ASCE Inspire 2023.