Weathering the Storm: Designing Resilient Facilities

In May 2013, twenty three of Tinker Federal Credit Union’s staff and members huddled in the building’s vault to take refuge from an EF5 tornado.

Winds reaching up to 210 miles an hour demolished most of Moore, Oklahoma, including the building of Tinker Federal Credit Union. Fortunately the staff and members emerged safely despite everything but the vault being reduced to rubble.

The amount of reported natural disasters per year has doubled over the last 30 years, according to the International Disaster Database. Disastrous weather often strikes without warning.

The financial system is invaluable to our country. Damage to its institutions can take months, even years for a company and its customers to recover. Therefore, resilient design should be a top priority for banks and credit unions.

Shifting away from traditional banking, money is becoming digitized and many branches are doing away with conventional vaults. Typically, as the Tinker Federal Credit Union employees would attest, those vaults can serve as reliable “safe rooms” in the event of a natural disaster.

But not all financial institutions wish to build a vault simply to protect from disasters.

Leaders in financial institutions must consider how to provide shelter to customers and employees. If traditional vaults are no longer needed for banking, what added safety precautions can take their place?

Modern architects are now including a specific room within the building to serve as a “refuge vault,” which keeps employees, customers and valuable company information safe and secure.

Oklahoma Employees Credit Union (OECU) developed a 35,000 square-foot headquarters in Oklahoma City. For them, the designated area of refuge was a computer room on the first floor. A specialized door with concrete walls and ceiling made a secure shelter for all employees and their computer equipment.

As OECU leadership understands, a headquarters or operations center is a hub for mobile and online banking, and a linchpin to company operations. In case of disaster, damage to one of these buildings could place an institution in peril.

Resilient design has different meanings across North America.

Resilient Design

Wetter climates call for state-of-the-art drainage systems to handle heavy rainfall and buildings built at the highest possible location to avoid flooding.

When necessary, laminated “hurricane glass” is used for windows, which endure extreme winds and the impact of debris.

In colder climates, preventative measures include reinforced roofs that withstand several pounds-per-square-foot of snowfall and special foundations built to handle permafrost.

If construction happens to be near a fault line or “earthquake zone,” architects go to great lengths to effectively brace the building for seismic activity.

With the growing instability of the global climate, these architectural precautions are becoming more and more valuable. Natural disasters and severe weather are inevitable, the well-being of your financial institutions is not.

The resources required to effectively design a resilient building is a small price to pay compared to months of grief-stricken repair. When thinking about building a new branch or headquarters, be sure to consider how to protect your most valuable assets— employees and customers.

*International Disaster Database Graph