In the immortal words of the great American philosopher and New York Yankee Yogi Berra, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” Nonetheless, contemplating the future and game- planning for changes to the AEC industry because of the COVID-19 crisis is essential for our industry. These discussions prepare us as an industry to begin contemplating the ways in which we might engage our employees, stakeholders, clients, and society at large to deal with the current crisis and its aftermath. Additionally, we are human, and we all are experiencing some level of discomfort with the unknown and the drastic change we’ve personally experienced because of the pandemic. These feelings are complex and can often lead to inaction, indecision, and at the extreme – depression and conflict. As such, game planning likely scenarios as well as creat- ing the space for our teams to think through impacts and changes to our industry is critical. This not only allows people to reset their mindset and think about the future, but ultimately it helps the AEC industry prepare to lead the change needed by our clients and society during and after the COVID-19 pandemic event. As a result, it is critical we begin to think about what the “new normal” might look like, and to position our industry to tackle the challenges and opportunities the crisis has given us. Healthcare & Vulnerable Populations One thing has become abundantly clear during the COVID-19 crisis – our hospital system is not designed for rapid large-scale pandemic events. The surge of non-critical and critical patients outnumbering our healthcare facilities’ capacity was one of the major factors for the “stay at home orders” issued by state and local governments. Addi- tionally, while not specifically healthcare, the pandemic has exposed weaknesses in the systems supporting America’s vulnerable popula- tions – including the homeless, those in nursing or elder care homes, correctional facilities/inmate care, and indigenous or Native American communities. We have also seen failures to protect those workers supporting jobs considered essential in our supply chain like grocery, warehouse workers and food processing facilities. Given the gaps exposed in our healthcare system and the pressure on vulnerable populations, we can expect to see movement by our govern- ment on improving the resiliency or the “hardening” of our medical and other critical care facilities to deal with the future spikes of COVID-19 outbreaks and new epidemic or pandemic challenges that may arise. As highlighted in many news outlets, recently added capacity has come through build-outs of temporary facilities, such as the adaption of city convention centers or underutilized hospitality/hotel facilities by the United States Corps of Engineers (USACE) and state-level depart- COVID-19 & the New Normal for the A/E/C Industry By Michael Drost
ments of emergency supported by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) through the Stafford Act emergency dollars. However, it’s important to remember that these are short-term emer- gency solutions, and these commercial venues must return to revenue- generating activities in the future. As such, longer-term solutions will have to be implemented. Solutions are likely to entail modifications to existing healthcare and facilities that support vulnerable populations to add capacity for a surge setting. Perhaps most concerning is that many doctors are reporting long-term health implications for patients who have recovered from COVID-19. These survivors will have long-term requirements that will need to be addressed, and therefore, new types of facilities or modifications to existing facilities will likely be neces- sary. In addition, we are likely to see further embracing of container- ized, mobile or field hospital units that can be quickly stood-up, broken down, disinfected/cleaned, and moved to the next “hot spot”. From an AEC industry perspective, construction and design firms should be keying in on future opportunities in supporting healthcare and vulnerable populations around new build, rehabilitation/renova- tion of existing facilities, and modular construction and design to ad- dress this potential need in the market. Moreover, companies that do not necessarily cater to the healthcare industry or support vulnerable populations should look to set strategic partnerships now as well as look at innovation in these spaces to allow them to enter the market and help meet what appears to be a critical long-term societal need. Lastly, for those construction and design companies fortunate to have excess capital, acquisitive strategies may be used to enter this market.
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