Resilience Building Against Natural Disasters in the Caribbean Islands

Subject: Tech & Engineering
Pages: 36
Words: 9904
Reading time:
36 min
Study level: Undergraduate


Resilience is an ability to recover from an adverse impact, which in the context of Hurricane Irma and the British Virgin Islands means the practices of building construction, materials and preparedness plans that allow restoring previous activities on the territory. In general, hurricane Irma was the most impactful natural disasters in the Caribbean, resulting in a $3.60 billion loss for the British Virgin Islands and four deaths.

Due to this, this research hypothesis that resilience practices of the British Virgin Islands, which address readiness for hurricane impact can be improved. This research explores the history of architecture in this region, and the pre-colonial, colonial, and post-colonial buildings. Additionally, it addresses the Japanese resilience architecture and practices used in the Bermuda islands. The approach taken by The Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) is examined as the basis of preparedness. The prospects of applying new materials, such as laminated wood in building construction, are reviewed.


The Caribbean region experienced several severe natural disasters that severely impaired the infrastructure and damaged buildings in the islands. Hurricane Irma was the most damaging and powerful natural disaster in recent years, which affected the territories of the Caribbean. Moreover, these catastrophes have a long-term adverse impact on the economy of the British Virgin Islands, with hurricane Irma resulting in total damage estimated at $3.60 billion. This research project explores the problem of resilience building in the British Virgin Islands in the context of hurricanes, examines new materials and as well as construction techniques that can be applied to prevent damage and presents survey outline, which will be collected from hurricane Irma survivors that can help understand the implications for the development of a new preparedness plan.

Background Information

Firstly, the British Virgin Islands is one of the three overseas territories of the United Kingdom, together with Anguilla and Montserrat, which are situated in the Northern East of the Caribbean region. Despite this, the British Virgin Islands are self-governed and have distinct laws and a constitution, which differ from those applied in the United Kingdom. Primary, these territories were inhabited by communities mainly engaged in agriculture; however, after the 1950s, tourism became an important aspect of the economy (Gore, Wynne, and Myers, 2019). This suggests that the British Virgin Islands can develop its own resilience practices and implement policies that will help withstand and overcome the consequences of hurricanes independently from the United Kingdom.

Climate, Wind and Rainfall information

The geographic location and specifics of the islands will be the focus of this paragraph. The tectonic activity helped form the Caribbean region. They are located on the “North and South American plates with the Nazca and Cocos plates” (Gore, Wynne, and Myers, 2019, p. 549). Both seismic and volcanic activity resulted in a formation of the uniquely shaped islands in the form of a crescent. The majority of the Islands that form the British Virgin Islands are a result of volcanic activity, during the Cretaceous period. The overall area of the British Virgin Islands is estimated at 153 square kilometers, with a coastline of 420 kilometers (Gore, Wynne, and Myers, 2019).

The current climate of the Caribbean, including the wind and rainfall information, will help understand the climate specifics that determine resilience and architectural practices applied in the area. According to the Government of the Virgin Islands (no date, para. 10), they, “enjoy a tropical climate, moderated by trade winds,” and the minimum temperature in the summer is 24 degrees Celsius and 21 degrees Celsius in the winter.

The formation of hurricanes in this type of climate is possible since there are six primary conditions that enable it. Firstly, the temperature of the sea must be above 26 degrees Celsius, which is common for the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean sea. Next, the Coriolis forces, which support the formation of hurricanes and are friction forces in motion, are stronger closer to the Earth’s poles. This condition is supported as a result of the geographic location of the British Virgin Islands.

Next, wind sheer or a change of its speed within different height, high humidity, and saturated lapse are also often met by the weather conditions near the British Virgin Islands. Finally, the tropical wave transforms thunderstorms into hurricanes. Tropical waves do not always transform into hurricanes and can become tropical storms. However, if all five of the previously mentioned conditions are met, a hurricane is formed. Fortunately, hurricanes are a relatively rare natural disaster, although their consequences are always very damaging, as will be illustrated in the following paragraphs.

About the Hurricane Irma

The Island of Tortola, where the capital of the British Virgin Islands is located, was mostly damaged as a result of Hurricane Irma. According to CIA (no date), approximately 80% of the island’s infrastructure, residential buildings and roads were destroyed in 2017. Inevitably, this destruction resulted in a need for wast financial investment in the renewal of the local communities and government structures. Additionally, the BVI News (2018) reported that the overall population of the islands decreased by 4,000 people, which is approximately 11% of the entire island’s population. The reasoning for the mass migration is the destruction.

As a result of Hurricane Irma, people lost property and were unable to have access to governmental services. Therefore, examining the issue of resilience is essential not in the context of having to rebuild the destroyed buildings, but also because it affects the population, their occupation and the most important aspects of their day to day lives, which are the elements of resilience. Additionally, this suggests that the British Virgin Islands need a hurricane response and resilience strategy that would help retain the existing population, by providing them with safety and the ability to rebuild the lost property in case of another hurricane.

Table 1 presents an assessment of deaths and economic impact that resulted from Hurricane Irma. It can be concluded that the British Virgin Islands did not experience as much damage as other territories, since, for example, the United States Virgin Islands had estimated economic damage of $10.8 billion (Dadlani, 2018). However, despite this significant difference, the $3.6 billion that the British Virgin Islands either lost as profits that were not received from businesses or as a direct impact of the hurricane are still significant.

Deaths Economic Impact
The British Virgin Islands 4 $3.60 billion
The United States 92 $50 billion (Hurricane Irma damage, no date)
Cuba 10 No data
The United States Virgin Islands 4 $10.8 billion (Dadlani, 2018)
French West Indies 11 No data

Table 1. Assessment of losses during hurricane Irma across the Caribbean (Hurricane Irma damage, no date; Dadlani, 2018)

While the hurricane lasted for a total of six days, its catastrophic damage and losses in terms of buildings and economic opportunities affected the British Virgin Islands for a long time after the occurrence. Table 2 presents the economic issues that the Caribbean and the British Virgin Islands experienced after the hurricane. This data helps understand resilience in a broader context – not only the ability of buildings to withstand extreme weather conditions, but the long-term impact and efforts necessary to recover the infrastructure, properties, and renew economic activity. As suggested by Table 2 and data presented by The Economist (2017) in Figure 1, St Martin’s GDP was primarily affected by the Irma hurricane, resulting in approximately 240% of annual GDP loss. The British Virgin Islands followed, resulting in 140% of the GDP loss.

This data suggests that architectural resilience must be reviewed not only from the context of rebuilding and reconstructing the property located on the islands after a hurricane. Such natural disasters and similar events affect the society and the economic stability of the islands since GDP reflects the products and services that were created within a year. This is linked to employment, salaries, and overall financial well-being of the people from the British Virgin Islands. Hence, an important aspect that emphasizes the need for resilience is developing a plan that can help protect the social and economic structures of a country. By creating buildings that can withstand hurricanes and developing protective structures that can be used to mitigate the damaging impact, the government of the British Virgin Islands will invest in the rapid recovery of the islands from possible disasters.

Country/territory GDP (USD) 2016 GDP (USD) 2017 GDP (USD) 2018
The British Virgin Islands 31,677 31,917 Not available
The United States Virgin Islands 3,872 3,855 3,984
Cuba 7,962 8,433 9,685

Table 2. GDP of countries affected by hurricane Irma in 2016, 2017 and 2018 (United Nations, 2019)

The economic impact of Hurricane Irma
Figure 1. The economic impact of Hurricane Irma (The Economist, 2017).

The British Virgin Islands depend on tourism as the primary driver of their economy, and it is difficult for the islands to recover from a hurricane and renew the tourism activities rapidly. The main issue is the fact the island does not possess many manufacturing facilities or other critical economic sectors. According to CIA (no date, para. 15), “the economy, one of the most stable and prosperous in the Caribbean, is highly dependent on tourism, which generates an estimated 45% of the national income.” Additionally, light industry, construction, and banking industry are essential drivers of the GDP. Therefore, hurricanes, such as Irma affect the British Virgin Islands because they damage the infrastructure developed for tourism and impact the recreational activity in the area, resulting in revenue loss.

From another perspective, lack of sustainable resilience practices means that even without dependence on tourism, in case the British Virgin Islands would have more plants or other well-developed industries, it is possible that their activity would also be halted in case of a hurricane. The only approach that would mitigate this problem is the development and enforcement of building codes, which are based on best practices of hurricane resilience. In this case, the property damage would be less significant, and the economic activity would not suffer from the consequences.

The damage to the governmental and private buildings made it impossible to continue tourist activities in the area. Dick-Read (2018) reported that it took approximately five months for the tourist activity in the area to renew, with a large portion of construction work continuing on the islands. Therefore, it is not fully renewed after Hurricane Irma, suggesting that the economy of the territory still suffers from the adverse impact of the disaster. This is an important aspect of resilience since it encompasses the capability of returning to a typical day to day life.

Other important economic sectors for the British Virgin Islands are financial services and yachting. Prior to Irma, the state had the largest number of charter boats, and it will take several years to restore the industry since 90% of the fleet was destroyed by Irma (Gore, Wynne, and Myers, 2019). The yachting industry was established in 1969, and by 2017 there were over 12 private yachting companies registered in the British Virgin Islands.

Furthermore, apart from the direct impact, Irma also damaged or destroyed the majority of the boats and yachts on these islands, resulting in oil from its tanks being leaked into the waters, which possess an environmental threat. Gore, Wynne, and Myers (2019) also note that this occurrence destroyed the fringing coastal mangroves. As a result, the question of removing the damaged parts from the coastal area, and developing a regulation that would help protect the islands from adverse outcomes of the industry has arisen.

Based on this information, one can argue that the British Virgin Islands do not have a mechanism or infrastructure that would help preserve the primary assets of its core industries – tourism, financial services and yachting. As a result, the state faces long-term issues, which make take years to resolve, since rebuilding the infrastructure and mitigating the environmental damage takes time.

About the British Virgin Islands

The history and factual information about the British Virgin Islands developed helps understand the architectural practices and its population and economy, which predefine resilience practices. The British Virgin Islands was established in 1648 by settlers from Denmark and were a British colony until 1967 when the British Virgin Islands gained autonomy (CIA, no date). The British Virgin Islands have no land boundaries, and they are surrounded by the North Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea.

In total, the territory consists of 36 islands, only 16 out of which are inhabited, and the most notable islands are “Tortola, Anegada, Virgin Gorda, Jost van Dyke” (CIA, no date, para. 10). Natural hazards that affect these islands include hurricanes and tropical storms, which occur from July till October. All of these geographic specifics predefined the architecture approaches used within these islands since building types and construction materials were chosen based on their appropriateness in the given weather conditions.

The British Virgin Islands is a relatively small territory, which can help improve the existing resilience practices and develop new approaches to architecture. According to the World Bank (no date), the population of the British Virgin Islands in 2018 is estimated at 35,802. Out of them, almost 15,000 live in Road Town, located on the Tortola island, which was majorly affected by the hurricane Irma. Approximately 48.2% of the inhabitants live in the urban area, with a yearly urbanization rate of 2.42% (CIA, no date).

Therefore, in the following years, the majority of the population will migrate to live in the cities, which suggests that practices of planning and developing the state’s major cities must be created with consideration for the continuously increasing urban population and the hazard of hurricanes, which can severely impair the urban infrastructure. The planning of urban resilience has several specifics that must be considered.

The location of the islands predisposes them to the impact of hurricanes since they are surrounded by the Caribbean Sea, as can be seen in Picture 1. Moreover, as was reviewed in the previous paragraphs, the geographic and climate specifics of the area predispose the territory on the impact of hurricanes. Since currently there are no ways of stopping hurricanes or mitigating their adverse impact, the main focus of the British Virgin Islands should be on the construction of buildings using materials that enable rapid rebuilding and practices that help minimize the damage. Picture 2 displays the map of hurricanes that impacted the British Virgin Islands over the years.

Map of the British Virgin Islands
Picture 1. Map of the British Virgin Islands (Map of the British Virgin Islands, no date).

Historically, the architecture of the islands developed in correspondence with the political impact of other states, such as the British Empire. As such, the architecture is a combination of structures that were created by indigenous people and those that were constructed by colonists. This creates a unique challenge for the islands since their building codes and resilience practices cannot copy those used in the United Kingdom due to the difference in the conditions and possible hazards. Additionally, the construction material choice available to the individuals living in the British Virgin Islands is limited, since limited territory and undeveloped manufacturing result in a need to purchase and transport the majority of these materials from other countries. These issues will be discussed more in detail in the subsequent paragraphs of this research.

Literature Review

Defining Resilience and Natural Disasters

Firstly, it is necessary to define the terms that will be used throughout this paper and explain their relevance to the scope of this research. Natural disasters can be defined as natural phenomena, which can have either a slow or fast onset (Types of disasters, no date). This category of hazards includes floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, and other activities, which occur without a direct impact on humans. In this research, This research focuses mainly on hurricanes that affect the British Virgin Islands, because the magnitude of their impact, unlike with other natural disasters that happen within this territory, causes devastating damage to the property and infrastructure.

Climate change is a concept that can be viewed as either a scientific fact or a political claim. However, some scientists point out the facts that suggest the increase in water temperature, leading to an increased risk of hurricanes. For instance, Munoz and Otker (2018) state that some evidence suggests an increasing water temperature, which in the future can lead to an increased number of hurricanes affecting the Islands.

While some scientists deny the concept of climate change, the data presented below showcases the temperature of the Caribbean Sea has increased. While climate change is a controversial topic, which generates a lot of debate among scientists and the general population, it is notable that recent hurricanes that affect the British Virgin Islands are more powerful and damaging than before. For instance, Irma was a level 5 hurricane, after which hurricane Maria occurred, which was also level 5 hurricane (Munoz and Otker, 2018). The existing data suggest that the territory was not subjected to hurricanes of similar severity, with the majority of them being level 1 or 2. C

The number of hurricanes and their classification
Figure 2. The number of hurricanes and their classification (Munoz and Otker, 2018).
The temperature of the Caribbean Sea
Figure 3. The temperature of the Caribbean Sea (Silver et al., 2019).

Next, resilience is the central concept that is examined in this paper. The term implies the ability to recover rapidly from an adverse event. As such, this concept is multidisciplinary and can be applied to different domains of social life. In architecture, resilience is a practice of constructing buildings that can sustain the impact of natural disasters. This term was first introduced by Holling in 1973 as a concept in ecology, although prior to this, resilience was applied in mechanics (Genadt, 2019). Alexander defines resilience in architecture as “interplay between rigidity – the ability of a structure or system to resist stress – and ductility – the ability of that same system to absorb stress through its own deformation” (cited in Genadt, 2019, p. 16). It should be noted that before the term was clearly defined as an architectural concept, it was used vernacularly by architects.

There are, however, other approaches to viewing and describing resilience in regards to architecture. Coaffee (2016) argues that this is a concept of planning, which allows cities to respond to shocks and address vulnerabilities. As such, resilience planning must leverage innovation and focus on vulnerable areas, in this case, the British Virgin Islands. Additionally, Genadt (2019, p. 16) points out that this concept must consider “structural stability, energy and material use, capital, and environmental parameters — jointly with cultural-symbolic and aesthetic qualities.” Therefore, resilience in the context of construction encompasses a more extensive filed of understanding, meaning that resilient architecture must consider the social factors. Arguably, the latter is especially important in cases when a hurricane cannot be avoided or mitigated through technology or resistance structures because people will have to rebuild their homes and governments will be responsible for restoring the infrastructure.

Therefore, considering the graphic and historical specifics of the British Virgin Islands, and their past history of hurricane damage as well as prospects of similar natural disasters occurring in the future, resilience practices imply the ability to plan architectural constructions and response strategies that will help the island and its inhabitants recover quickly from the disaster. This incorporates two main aspects –

The concept of resilience requires one to focus on the future and challenges that a city’s infrastructure may face as a result of disasters, to develop a plan that would help overcome such difficulties. However, current architectural practices fail to account for this aspect of planning, which Fischer titled the “fracture-critical design” (cited in Coaffee, 2016, p. 10).

Another aspect of resilience that is often overlooked by the government is the question of whether rebuilding specific structures in the same place is necessary at all after a hurricane. In some parts of the Caribbean, the recovery from Irma is not fully completed by 2019. The challenges of recovering the islands’ infrastructure and rebuilding residential areas are not merely the question of financials or humanitarian aid, necessary to carry out the work. While Semple (2019) focuses on St. Martin, which received financial aid from the French government, a similar question of whether to rebuild on the same land is posed for the British Virgin Islands.

There are several implications with this dilemma – on the one hand, there are some infrastructure, historical value and community of people who lived in a specific place, which suggests the need to rebuild the community as it was before Irma. As Semple (2019, para. 7) suggests – “but many working-class residents fear they could be forced to abandon property that has been in their family for generations.” Therefore, even in cases when it is more sensible to build homes further away from the shore to avoid severe damage, people living in the area may refuse to do so.

On the other hand, as is suggested by the evidence presented in this research, there is a threat that these islands will undergo hurricanes similar to Irma in the future, as a result of water temperature increase. In that case, the British Virgin Islands’ resilience to hurricanes is questionable, since the response practices are not adapted to the potential threat. Here, evidence from scientific journals and experience of countries dealing with after-hurricane. According to Semple (2019, para. 15), “Hurricane Irma made clear that natural disasters not only obliterate structures and lives; they can also expose deep socioeconomic fault lines.” Therefore, the construction practices and land use policies must consider the danger of a potential hurricane and address it by not allowing citizens to build their homes in potentially hazardous areas.

In terms of resilience, the location of the British Virgin Islands presents several unique challenges. Firstly, since the islands are a remote territory, far from the mainland, delivering construction materials is difficult, which inevitably affects their prices (Semple, 2019). The two main ways of delivering construction materials are by plane or ship. Another factor is demand and the availability of the workforce that can participate in the rebuilding efforts, which also increases the cost of labor within the islands. All in all, this suggests that resilience, from an economic viewpoint, is more complex and financially burdening for the British Virgin Islands when compared to the mainland.

From the perspective of a community, resilience is a notion that also implies using the past experience of the British Virgin Islands responding to hurricane threats and using them to design best practices. In general, there were thirteen hurricanes during the twentieth century that affected this territory (Munoz and Otker, 2018). While this type of resilience is important, unfortunately, the evidence of GDP and economic impact of hurricane Irma suggests that the British Virgin Islands did not develop an appropriate response strategy.

Japanese Experience of Resilience

Japanese tradition of resilience architecture can help understand the best practices and approaches to developing resilience planning since this country has successfully overcome several natural and man-made catastrophes. According to Genadt (2019), the Japanese have applied two main approaches to resilience – resistance and flexibility. The first one implies using technology and innovation to try and overcomes or mitigate the adverse impacts of hurricanes and other natural disasters. Naji (2016, p. 10) states that “The architectural style in Japan has been subject to changes due to catastrophes that occurred there.”

However, the second one has proven to be more effective since it allowed the Japanese to adapt to reoccurring natural hazards. As Genadt (2019, p. 16) states, “resilience in architecture is not solely defined in terms of a structure’s massing or physical strength.” The first era of Japanese resilience refers to the combination of rigidity and pliability when constructing a building, which allowed them to withstand moderate impact. During the second period, the Japanese architects began viewing resilience from a biological point of view, meaning that they aimed to construct cities, which would grow, develop and become rebuilt naturally.

The third period of the Japanese resilience encompassed a combination of viewing the concept in light of toughening the buildings to withstand extreme conditions and tailoring the strategy to the living preferences of local communities (Genadt, 2019). As was previously mentioned, the concept of resilience mostly pertains to the ability to define a structure’s vulnerabilities and constructing a building that can withstand hazards. However, considering the Japanese tradition of architecture, resilience can be viewed as the capability of a building of supporting the equilibrium of the specific community after a natural disaster such as a hurricane. Therefore, the experience of Japan can be used by the British Virgin Islands officials to redesign practices and approaches currently used as a method for addressing hurricane threats.

Similarly to the Caribbean architecture, which will be explored more in-depth in the following paragraphs, Japan has used wood as the main material for building construction for a long time. Fuentes (2015) states that these were the main preference of local architects prior to the Meiji Restoration in 1868. After this period, a variety of modern construction materials, such as stone, steel and concrete became common. However, the recent shift in understanding resilience and a different approach to the sustainable design highlighted the properties of wood, which can provide some insight into understanding how the British Virgin Islands can use this material in reconstruction and improve practices to make houses more resilient to hurricanes.

The Japanese example can be used as a reference not only in regards to building resilience but also as part of social response to hurricanes in the British Virgin Islands. Dionisio and Pawson (2016) suggest that engagement of the public is also important as part of the resilience in the context of Japanese response to disasters. By using the examples of Christchurch Earthquakes, the authors illustrate how the engagement of the public builds social resilience to catastrophes. Volunteers helped people after the earthquakes by providing them support.

Additionally, the community participated in developing a new plan for reconstructing the church, presenting the government officials their ideas and projects. Therefore, to develop an effective resilience strategy for the British Virgin Islands, government officials must incorporate the local communities into the recovery process. Since events such as hurricanes usually affect large portions of land and leave extreme destruction, it is essential to ensure that people living in the islands can both provide each other with support and receive it. Through this combined effort, the community can work on preparing a better plan, in terms of city development and preparedness for hurricanes, which will allow mitigating the consequences of other hurricanes in case they occur.

Another concept of Japanese resilience tradition is metabolic architecture. Naji (2016) presents the concept of metabolic architecture, as the Japanese response to man-made and natural catastrophes, and the nation’s approach to building its resilience and preserving the beauty and aesthetic of architectural tradition. The primary idea of metabolism in building construction and city development is the organic growth, and the main principles are construction of cities, which correspond to the main requirements of the inhabitants – they are a comfortable place for living, transportation and recreation.

Metabolic practices require one to combine technology and design with an idea of biological metabolism and encourage the active development of the cities. This approach is mentioned since one of the major resilience issues that the British Virgin Islands face is urban development and a continuous increase of population outside villages. These changes will require the policymakers not only to update the existing building codes, change material requirements, update the preparedness plan but also focus on creating resilience plans that address the urban population growth.

Other Facts

The Caribbean Region, and more specifically, the British Virgin Islands experienced several major hurricanes over the last few years, which is displayed in the timeline as Figure 1. Table 1. Notably, this information, combined with data from the previous paragraphs suggests that hurricane Irma caused not only direct damage to the infrastructure and economic stability but had long-term consequences that slow down the rebuilding of the islands and renewal of prior activity.

According to Munoz and Otker (2018, p. 8) “as global warming continues to increase sea-water temperatures, the Caribbean is becoming more vulnerable to increasingly frequent and damaging natural disasters. Policies that build resilience in Caribbean countries—such as strengthening physical infrastructure and putting in place insurance protection can help minimize the human and economic costs of natural disasters and preserve the region’s majestic beauty.”

An alternative approach to resilience is the tale of King Canute and the Tide. According to this story, the King explains that he has no power over the tide. This strategy implies that the society of the British Virgin Islands should adopt to the risks of nature, instead of trying to find new ways of fighting it. Therefore, instead of viewing resilience to hurricanes as a matter of constructing structures, which can withstand wind, rain and other extreme conditions, people living in British Virgin Islands should focus on developing a culture of constructing buildings in areas that will not be subjected to damage in case of a hurricane or, if this approach cannot be accomplished, focus on having buildings that can be easily replaced and renewed after a hurricane.

One example is the importance of the structure’s location and the direction it faces, which can predefine its capability to withstand hurricanes. Other aspects of construction, such as elevation levels affect the impact of the heavy rains and floods that can be a result of a hurricane. Finally, the materials used for construction also matter as they can adequately withstand the natural conditions and be easily replaceable for rapid rebuilding of the area after a hurricane.

The concept of Theseus’s ship is a philosophic approach that can help understand resilience and possible ways to address the reconstruction of the British Virgin Islands better. The primary implication of this philosophic view is the capability of replacing different parts of the ship to ensure that it continues to stay afloat (Merrill and Giamarelos, 2019). One issue, which arises as a result of this philosophical dilemma is the aspect of identity as a result of constant replacement, or the issue of whether an object stays the same if all of its elements are replaced. This is interesting in particular because of the history of architecture in the islands, the number of colonial and post-colonial buildings that will arguably lose their historical value if they are continuously replaced.

Implications of Resilience

There are several implications that point out the need to address resilience in the British Virgin Islands in a more cohesive manner. Firstly, the changes in climate affect the number of natural disasters. The climate changes, which affects precipitation rates and temperature. Munoz and Otker (2018) argue that warming of the climate will result in hurricanes that occur more frequently and are more severe than those experienced before. The changes needed to address climate change and possible disasters adequately include both approaches to home construction and governmental policies that guide the preparedness plans.

Sanni et al. (2019, p. 1) point out the “weak links among the key actors on the governance, planning, and implementation of climate change programs in urban areas.” Zolnikov (2018, p. 27) explains the danger of hurricanes in the following manner – “these natural disasters halt patterns of daily life and involve a myriad of negative effects, including financial hardships experienced by individuals as well as local, state, and federal governments as they try to re-create the predicate environment.”

Secondly, together with the changes in the weather, the patterns of behavior of people change as well, requiring resilience building that account for these changes. Minnery (2015) states that by 2035 the demand for electricity will increase by 35% and water supply needs will increase by 50% in 2050.

Therefore, not only natural disasters but also the day-to-day activities of the people living in an area require policymakers and construction specialists to pay additional attention to resilience as the central aspect of strategic planning. When considering natural disasters such as hurricanes and the consequences and damage they leave, this means that the government and the citizens of the British Virgin Islands will have to deal with more extensive damage, and renew a more significant number of infrastructural facilities, which supply electricity or water.

More people decide to move to urban areas, increasing the pressure placed on the infrastructure and pressuring cities to construct buildings rapidly. According to Coaffee (2016), by 2050 approximately 75% of the global population is going to live in urban areas, which inevitably should change the approaches taken to viewing resilience to hurricanes and the measures taken to protect the people and infrastructure. Thirdly, hurricanes that occurred in the past caused substantial damage to the property of people, the economy of the region, and resulted in several deaths. The most notable hurricane in the British Virgin Islands was Hurricane Irma. It affected the region in September 2017, leading to substantial damage of property.

The received information suggests that healthcare services, essential for ensuring that people who were injured during the Hurricane Irma could not be evaluated because of infrastructure damage. This signifies another essential element of resilience – ability to provide healthcare services after a disaster and address the needs of renewing healthcare activity in the area. According to Lichtveld (2018, p. 28), “one potentially daring but promising strategy is to elevate community resilience [our emphasis] as an essential public health service.” Therefore, it is evident that resilience practices should incorporate the healthcare component, including initial response and efforts to rebuild the healthcare system as a long-term goal. Similar ideas are expressed by other scholars were considered.

Natural disasters, similar to Hurricane Irma, must be addressed as complex issues and not isolated events. This is necessary since one must make certain that all elements of resilience and restoration of communities are addressed, including the renewal of the residential area, infrastructure, governmental services and to facilitate changes, which will ensure that the impact of future disasters is not as damaging.

The resilience of buildings can be achieved in several ways. Firstly, the location of a building plays a role in how it withstands winds, which is specifically important in the context of hurricanes since they usually generate strong winds (Bryan, 2017). Moreover, the landscape specifics of the British Virgin Islands provide the following aspects that must be considered – closeness to the shore and mountain elevation. Next, roofs and their construction is extremely important, since under the impact of strong wind roofs are usually damaged firstly (Bryan, 2017). Hence, if a roof can withstand the hurricane, the interior of the house will be less damaged.

Issues may arise if a breach of the structure is present because it creates additional pressure on the roof. The monolithic dome is the best structure for this purpose since the surface area is exceptionally strong. However, as will be reviewed in the section dedicated to the current architecture of the British Virgin Islands, monolithic domes are not applied in the area.

Hip roofs, which are another option for increased roof resilience, are also not popular in the region. Usually, these constructions are lightweight and have slopes in all directions, allowing for better support of the exterior wall and increased aerodynamics (Bryan, 2017). Additionally, the overall shape of a structure also predetermines its ability to overcome hurricanes. In general, the square or rectangular buildings are inferior to those in the shape of a hexagon octagon, or circle (Bryan, 2017). However, as with the roofs, the traditional architecture within the British Virgin Islands usually does not incorporate these forms.

It should be noted that indigenous architecture usually employs dome-shaped structures, which can withstand extreme weather conditions better. While it is unlikely that the people residing in the British Virgin Islands will be able to fully rebuilt their homes to fulfil the outlined requirements, it is possible to incorporate some into the building codes to ensure increased strength of these buildings. Additionally, the government can implement policies that will make it mandatory for new constructions to use dome-shaped roofs and other practices that increase resilience.

Flooding can cause additional damage, apart from that from the wind. One approach to overcoming this is to use pilings, which elevate the building creating protection from floods (Bryan, 2017). Materials used for construction that will be examined more in detail in the next section are also important. These recommendations are general approaches to increasing resilience from an architectural viewpoint.


Hurricane Irma destroyed not only people’s homes but the islands’ infrastructure, including hospitals, schools and government buildings. Also According to the report, produced by Cangialosi, Latto and Berg (2018), this hurricane had seven landfalls, and its overall strengths were estimated using the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, according to which it reached category 5. This disaster resulted in 47 direct death that occurred due to wing, secure, or heavy rainfall, four out of which occurred within the British Virgin Islands.

While it is essential to examine Hurricane Irma’s adverse impact on the British Virgin Islands as a whole, it is also essential to view it from an individual’s perspective. Zolnickov (2018) discusses the personal experience of surviving Hurricane Irma, pointing out several essential components that outline the preparedness for hurricanes. People living in areas subjected to hurricane impact must prepare beforehand, and in many cases, they have to leave their homes due to the danger of severe winds and rainfall damaging their property and making it uninhabitable. However, many, including Zolnikov (2018), underestimate the danger and choose to remain in their homes.

As such, the disaster supply kits, which are an essential element of preparation for a hurricane, are no longer sufficient. Instead, the authorities and communities must look at a broader scope of issues – how to prepare for a hurricane, how to ensure that healthcare services can be provided during and after the disaster and what steps should be taken to rebuild the property, which is the main elements of resilience explored in this research.

Zolickov (2018, p. 27) explains the main issues connected to the house structure that make it feel unsafe during a hurricane due to “whistling wind and accumulating pools of water seeping under doors and windows.” This suggests that people in the areas subjected to hurricane damage may have difficulty recovering their homes after a hurricane if standard practices or resilience are used. Report by Semple (2019), suggest that many individuals have to permanently leave their homes, since they are unsafe, and reside in temporary apartments provided by the government. They face uncertain since they often do not know whether they will be able to rebuild their homes because they have to receive permission from the government and financial aid to accomplish this.

The fact that Irma destroyed the infrastructure of the Islands means that the tourist-dependent economy cannot receive taxes and businesses are unable to obtain revenue for a month until the tourist activity is restored again. Therefore, the existing state of hurricane resilience in the British Virgin Island, based on evidence from 2017 hurricane Irma is unsatisfactory and more attention should be dedicated to the materials used during construction, construction techniques and preparedness plan.

The effect of hurricane Irma suggests that the British Virgin Islands are not well-prepared in regards to addressing extreme weather occurrences. Moreover, based on the examined literature, one can argue that in the future weather conditions will continue to worsen, with more hurricanes occurring and more people living in urban areas. The resilience planning, therefore, must be a priority since it can help address these challenges and minimize the economic and humanitarian risks.

Preparedness Plan

Typically, in case of a hurricane, people can choose between two options – to say at their homes endangered by the disaster or leave. In case they choose the first option, they have to ensure that they have a sufficient supply of food and water (Zolickov 2018). Humanitarian issues, such as access to resources and medical help, are the key issues that are difficult to resolve in case of a hurricane.

The central aspect of pre-hurricane preparation is the ability to predict it beforehand. Here, an example of approaches used by the United States can be used since they use tools such as “Hurricane Evacuation (HURREVAC) eXtended (HV-X), Advanced CIRCulation (ADCRIC), and Simulation-Based Decision Support System for Water Infrastructure Safety (DSS-WISE) Lite™” (Bryan, 2018). These tools help visualize the impact of a hurricane and develop an appropriate response strategy by examining the storm surge and flooding danger that can affect local communities.

The Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) is an organization responsible for developing and implementing strategies and policies that address resilience against hurricanes in the region. According to the organization, it is an intergovernmental structure established in 1991 (About us, no date). CDEMA coordinates the response to disasters such as hurricanes and is responsible for resilience. CDEMA uses Comprehensive Disaster Management (CDM) as the basis of preparedness, which is a strategy for mitigating and minimizing possible adverse effects of natural hazards.

One of the organization’s projects titled “Project #2” aims to prepare the communities for hurricane impact by strengthening capacity at regional and community levels (About us, no date). Hence, the organization recognizes the need to change approaches to resilience social and governmental levels. Additionally, CDEMA guides the “Safe Schools” program that functions since 2017 and offers a framework for developing safe environments for children.

While these initiatives will positively affect the preparedness of the British Virgin Islands for future hurricanes, their scope is very limited – addressing only advanced alarm systems, cooperation and safe schools. Important aspects, such as architecture, building codes, closeness to shore, materials used during construction and safety structures, are not a part of CDEMA’s activity. Additionally, the organization does not have a clear plan for citizens or communities on how to prepare for a hurricane and recover from its consequences. The latter is especially important since Irma destroyed infrastructure and public organizations and people were unable to access basic services such as medical help.

History of Resilience Building

Resilience in architecture is not a novel or innovational topic since hurricanes and natural disasters continuously damage people’s homes.

The overall history of architecture of the British Virgin Islands is unique, due to the location of the islands, their geographical properties and availability of materials. Crain (1994) states that architecture differs even from island to island, since the presence of volcanos or mountains predefined the sheltering needs of the inhabitants, prompting them to construct different types of buildings.

Other aspects that directly affect the types of construction are climate and rainfalls since although the region is considered tropical, some areas have minimum precipitation during the year. Amerindians were the first inhabitants of the Islands, occupying the land before the Europen settlers arrived (Crain, 1994). Picture 2 displays the typical indigenous construction of these native people and their simplistic architecture. As can be seen, they used wood as the primary material for building their homes, which were usually small structures.

Indigenous homes in the Caribbean
Picture 2. Indigenous homes in the Caribbean (Crain, 1994).

The European settlers faced several difficulties when trying to develop buildings, similar to those they had in their homelands. The lack of professional architects and the need to use local materials resulted in a deviation from the European architectural tradition (Crain, 1994). Moreover, the desire to mimic European architecture was not always appropriate for the tropic climate of the islands. Since different European nations controlled the islands in the Caribbean and often, their area of influence shifted, in most cases, influence from the Dutch, English, French and other countries can be seen.

Despite the different influences and approaches to construction, the central aspect of colonial architecture in the Caribbean is a buildings’ capacity to protect people from rain and sun. For this reason, the majority of buildings lack exterior elements or decorations, as can be seen in Picture 3. Even fretwork, which is usually incorporated as a decoration, was used to protect the inhabitants while allowing the sun and air to enter the house.

The climate and the vegetation also allowed people to dedicate more attention to the outdoor facilities of their homes, such as terrace or gardens. Additionally, Craine (1994) notes that the islands’ buildings have larger windows, more balconies and doors when compared to other European houses. Therefore, the climate and the resistance to weather conditions were the primary factors defining the colonial architecture in the British Virgin Islands.

Colonial building in Road Town
Picture 3. Colonial building in Road Town (Road Town – colonial house, 2004).

Another notable factor is that the Europeans used wood as the primary material for construction, similar to the indigenous people. The brick and tile that was common in Europe could not withstand the weather hazards, and thus, although there are some buildings from the colonial era that use these materials, the majority are made out of wood (Craine, 1994). Initially, the colors of the buildings were natural, but when the pain became widely available, the people began using bright colors.

Therefore, building types in the Caribbean can be classified as pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial. Modern architecture in the region employs the traditions and best practices of the past, making the buildings vulnerable to hurricanes. The roofs of homes serve as an essential element of protection for the property in case of a hurricane. Salmonsen (2016, para. 5) states that it is the “first line of defense” against the natural catastrophes because, during hurricanes, the strong winds often result in an uplift, damaging the roof structure.

Currently, the practices used by the government of the British Virgin Islands that target resilience are ineffective. However, it is possible to use the examples of other island territories that have successfully established adequate practices of architectural resilience. Bermuda is not located in the Caribbean, but its population and geographic characteristics are similar to those of the British Virgin Islands. It is also a self-governing overseas territory of the United Kingdom, which allows for independent planning and implementation of unique resilience practices (Tai, 2018). The territory is also susceptible to hurricanes.

Hence, Bermuda can be used as an example of successful resilience planning. Initially, the inhabitants of Bermuda used wood as the primary construction material, similar to people living in the British Virgin Islands. However, the strategy has proven to be ineffective when faced with hurricane impact, and in 1712 the state implemented building codes that mandate the use of limestone instead of wood (Tai, 2018). One important practice that the government of Bermuda adopted is a thorough analysis of damage after a hurricane, which allowed improving these codes in the future, which was especially important in 2003 after hurricane Fabian. The standards incorporate concrete buildings and concrete or timber roofs, and both construction and repairs must be approved by governmental officials.

In general, the British Virgin Islands recognize the need to update the existing codes as a result of Hurricane Irma impact. For instance, Smith (2017) states that the policymakers already have a plan for changing the existing construction standards because the hurricane left the islands with devastating damage. Approximately 70% of buildings were damaged as a result, meaning that the problem in the standards is evident and old codes no longer correspond with the threat of the natural disaster that these islands face.

Despite the vast damage, this is an opportunity for the British Virgin Islands to review its architectural standards and preparedness for hurricanes and rebuilt buildings that are more resilient and can be renewed easier after disasters. Notably, no information on the actual update of the codes after 2017 is available on the government’s website.

New Materials

Currently, wood is the primary material used for constructing homes in the Caribbean, and in the British Virgin Islands in particular. This is a suitable approach to construction since other materials, such as brick are more susceptible to the destructive nature of hurricanes, which can lead to more damage. Fuentes (2015) suggests using cross-laminated timber which is a product of sawn lumbers glued together. This material is used in Japan as a response to new resilience and architectural trends, since it can be grown in the state and current manufacturing facilities allow having sufficient quantities of laminated wood, satisfying the urban needs. According to Fuentes (2015, p. 8), this wooden material is a

“part of a new generation of EWPs known as massive timber manufactured products that have fibers, veneers, or wood boards glued or bound together with methods of fixation like adhesives, that has been gaining popularity throughout the world in low-, mid-, and high-rise residential and non-residential applications.”

One issue with using this material, considering the specifics of the British Virgin Islands is the fact that unlike Japan, the islands do not possess the manufacturing capabilities that would allow them to produce this laminated wood. Despite having a sufficient supply of local wood, in order to implement this strategy into real-life resilience, the government and businesses would have to invest in plants on the island that would produce this wood. If such material is delivered from the mainland, it can be anticipated that similarly to other construction materials; the price will be too high.

Some criticism of the construction materials used within the territory exists. It should be noted that Tai (2018) criticizes the widespread use of wood as the primary construction material in the British Virgin Islands. Mainly, this is because steel and concrete buildings can withstand hurricanes, even those reaching category five. The use of wood is a result of the overall scarcity of the materials that can be manufactured within the islands and the high cost of other materials. The high cost of transportation is the primary issue, which cannot be easily resolved since the islands are located in a remote territory. Laminated wood, which was examined above, is a better approach, since, it is possible to use the wood from the islands to manufacture laminated wood.

However, for such a project, it is necessary to establish a manufacturing facility to a plant that will fulfil the needs of this material. In general, the question of applying new materials for better resilience within the British virgin islands is complex, due to economic constraints and cannot be easily resolved through a mere adaptation of a new manufacturing technique. Therefore, the review of prior research on construction materials, which allow for increased resilience allows one to recommend the policymakers in the British Virgin Islands to make it mandatory for all

Gaps in the Prior Research

Little emphasis is placed on cohesive planning of urban resilience building, which would incorporate aspects such as architecture, materials used for construction, According to Silver et al. (2019), natural protection systems, such as coral reefs or forests that served as a mean of protecting cities and villages from a destructive impact of hurricanes are being depleted. This suggests that in the future, territories such as the British Virgin Islands will be affected by even more damage due to hurricanes.

According to Silver et al. (2019, p. 556), “for example, coral reefs weaken storm surges by taking the energy out of waves.” Next, while before the storm reaches residential areas, it is stopped by the forests, which act as natural barricades, lessening its strengths. While Silver et al. (2019) explore the possibility of using natural structures as protection, it is not clear how they can be modified to protect the inhabited area. Moreover, the analysis of the inhabited areas in the British Virgin Islands implies that many residents choose to build homes closer to the coastal area, which increases the risk and mitigates the ability to leverage natural protection structure. Hence, despite useful suggestions, it is not clear how the examined work can be applied for resilience development in the British Virgin Islands.

The non-natural resilience constructions are seawalls and jetties. A seawall is a concrete structure that should be built in the shore to protect inhabited areas from flooding. These systems usually compensate for the height difference between the coastal area and the rest of an island. However, they are expensive to construct and take up a lot of space, making them impractical for a large-scale construction as part of a resilience plan.

The government of the British Virgin Islands launched the Cane Garden Bay Revetment Project to invest in seawall construction along the coastline. One of such investment is a $$561,000 to rebuild a seawall in the area (BVI News, 2017). These projects are high-cost and require continuous reinvestment, as suggested by the Cane Garden Bay Revetment Project, requiring better resilience strategies. This is one of the approaches designed to resist natural hazards, trying to mitigate their impact. However, this research also suggests that little attention is dedicated towards planning and preparedness, employment of tactics that can help rebuild cities and enable the safety of the citizens in case a hurricane similar to Irma occurs again.

There are some works by researchers that focus on these approaches, more specifically an article by Hazarika, Hara and Fukumoto (2017) who discuss the impact of these structures on the outcomes of the 2011 tsunami in Japan. In this case, the authors describe walls out of tires along the coastline designed to resist natural disasters. Similarly to other gaps in research, this aspect of resilience lacks a focus on the British Virgin Islands, presenting no relevant examples and data to support the need for constructing them within this territory.

In regards to resilience-building specific to the Caribbean region and the British Virgin Islands, in particular, the literature search displayed a lack of scientific work dedicated to this topic. The search of libraries and science journals using keywords that relate to “resilience building in the British Virgin Islands” revealed no recent publications on the topic. The policy briefing by Grenade and Wright (2019) outlines the issues faced by all Caribbean territories – dependence of tourism and susceptibility to natural disasters. The development of different aspects of the islands’ life – including social, economic and fiscal are highlighted as those supporting the establishment of adequate resilience. Such an approach will allow for adequate availability of resources and will impact governmental policies regarding resilience.

It should be noted that a lot of scientific work is dedicated to resilience building and planing within the Caribbean region; however, the focus of researchers is usually the United States Virgin Islands. For example, Tai (2018, p. 5) examines the existing practices and argues that ” without effective rebuilding practices, every future hurricane season will pose as a threat to the US Virgin Island’s economy and residents’ welfare.” This work poses an essential question of the Island’s ability to recover quickly, which is also relevant for the British Virgin Islands.

Therefore, this paper draws on the multidisciplinary research conducted in different countries and dedicated to understanding and testing the best practices of resilience. As such, it bridges the literature gap by outlining the specifics of the resilience of the British Virgin Islands since this is the topic that lacks representation among scientific literature. The study conducted as part of this research will help broaden the understanding of resilience and islands’ rebuilding practices based on the interviews with the inhabitants.


The research for this project began with collecting information from scholarly journals, newspapers, governmental and international organizations about the damage caused by Irma and the recovery process, including data from the United Nations, CIA, BVI News. Government of the Virgin Islands, CDEMA and the World Bank. Information about previous hurricanes, as well as typical weather conditions and geographic location that predisposes the British Virgin Islands was assessed.

Scholarly literature examined for this project allowed identifying several best practices, which help address resilience in the context of the islands – metabolic architecture, Japanese tradition, new materials such as laminated wood, and best practices of Bermuda were evaluated. Both primary and secondary sources were included, and the main issues that affect the islands were identified, which are lack of building codes that address hurricane threat, construction materials that cannot withstand the wind and flood and an anticipated increase of the urban population.

Upon collecting relevant literature, this resilience project aims to create a survey for the people residing in the British Virgin Islands. To facilitate this project and the collection of quantitative data, which will help analyses the state of resilience in the British Virgin Islands. The method chosen for this research is a survey, a number of close-ended questions with multiple choices. This approach will allow obtaining data, which can be quantified and analyzed, using calculations and graphs.

The questions are developed in several sections, including one dedicated to preparedness for natural disasters and awareness of protection practices, and a second, which aims to assess the materials and architectural specifics of people’s homes. In order to obtain a large number of responses, suitable for this survey, the questions will be distributed online, using Google Forms. The anticipated number of participants is 100, all of which must reside in the British Virgin Islands.

While the personal identity of these individuals will not be disclosed, important data such as age and gender will be collected for better interpretation of results. Since the participants will be recruited online, it is crucial to have a pre-survey form that would help ensure that only people from the British Virgin Islands older than 18 years old participate, to mitigate possible bias or inconsistency of results.

In order to obtain additional information regarding the resilience in the British Virgin Islands, direct observation of people can be used. This approach allows evaluating variables that cannot be controlled in a natural environment, which helps obtain accurate results. The hypothesis that is tested is that current resilience planning of the British Virgin Islands is not adequate for withstanding natural disasters, as was demonstrated by Hurricane Irma. Since the islands still recover, both economically and physically, by rebuilding the infrastructure and residential areas, the policymakers should dedicate more attention towards improving the practices. Additionally, materials that can help enhance the resilience of the buildings are not used in the British Virgin Islands, which can also help improve the state of things when rebuilding constructions.


Overall, this research project focused on examining resilience building in the British Virgin Islands. The example and devastating consequences of hurricane Irma that occurred in 2017 suggest that new resilience policies and practices must be developed. Moreover, evidence of climate change and water temperature in the Caribbean provide an understanding of the possibility that hurricanes will occur more often in the future. Therefore, the British Virgin Islands will benefit from developing and adopting new strategies of resilience. The explanation of the urban population and increased demand for water and electricity supply must also be considered when developing resilience practices.

Resilience is a concept that refers to not only the ability to rebuild the buildings ruined as a result of a hurricane. As suggested by the different perspectives reviewed in this research hurricane resilience involves not only the architectural practices but also readiness of public services, preparedness of communities, infrastructure design, materials used for building and the approach taken towards construction.

Based on the findings of this resilience-building research project, new materials and building practices can be applied in the British Virgin Islands to ensure better preparedness for hurricanes. Additionally, various humanitarian aspects of preparedness plans were examined in this research to identify key challenges that people in the hurricane impact area face. This research supports the thesis that resilience in the Caribbean requires greater attention since the total losses after hurricane Irma include financials necessary to renew the infrastructure and loss of GDP.

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