By Published: April 30, 2021

Lori Peek, a CU Boulder sociologist, was recently nominated by President Joe Biden and confirmed by the U.S. Senate to join the National Institute of Building Sciences board

When it comes to withstanding a disaster, how we design our infrastructure really can make all the difference.

It is for that reason that Lori Peek, a professor of sociology and the director of the Natural Hazards Center at the University of Colorado Boulder, has been nominated by President Joe Biden to the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS) Board of Directors. 

The board, which has six members appointed by the president as well as 15 additional members elected by the building sciences community, is responsible for ensuring the nation’s buildings are safe, structurally sound and sustainable.

Lori Peek tours a school building that was damaged in the 2018 Alaska earthquake. @Rachel Adams, 2020

At the top of the page: 9/11 Memorial & Museum, Greenwich Street, New York, NY, USA Above: Lori Peek tours a school building that was damaged in the 2018 Alaska earthquake. @Rachel Adams, 2020

Peek, who is the first-ever social scientist appointed to the board, was nominated along with Evelyn M. Fujimoto, an award-winning design professional.

“NIBS was chartered by the U.S Congress to convene industry and government, bringing together experts in planning, design, construction, supply and technology,” Lakisha A. Woods, president and CEO of NIBS, said in a press release announcing the nominations. “We are thrilled with the president’s nominations, and we wish these smart and talented women a smooth confirmation.”

Peek, who was confirmed to the position by the U.S. Senate at the beginning of August, will serve until Sept. 30, 2024.

Peek studies marginalized populations, including children and low-income families, in disaster situations. She has conducted research after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Hurricanes Katrina and Matthew, Superstorm Sandy, the BP Oil Spill, the Christchurch and Anchorage earthquakes, and the Joplin tornado, among other major events.

Additionally, she is the author of Behind the Backlash: Muslim Americans after 9/11, co-editor of Displaced: Life in the Katrina Diaspora, and co-author of Children of Katrina. Peek also helped to write school safety guidance for the nation, which resulted in the publication of FEMA P-1000 Safer, Stronger, Smarter: A Guide to Improving School Natural Hazard Safety.

We recently asked Peek about her hopes for the position and why it’s important to talk about natural hazards when discussing building science:

Q: What was your reaction when you found out about the nomination?

A: “I found out about the nomination through an email from the Office of Presidential Personnel in the White House. I was informed that I was under consideration for a presidential appointment to the NIBS Board of Directors and that the position would require Senate confirmation. I read the email five or six times as this was completely unexpected, and I was in shock! Once I realized that the message was indeed real, then a wave of emotion swept over me. It is an honor to have this chance to serve our nation in any way.”

Q: What are your hopes for this position if confirmed?

A: “If confirmed, my hope is to represent the academic social science research community and to support the groundbreaking work that NIBS has led in terms of building safety and natural hazards mitigation. Part of my research has focused on school natural hazards safety and answering the question of how we can ensure that every child in this nation has an opportunity to attend a safe school. At present, however, many thousands of school children—and especially children from communities of color and low-income communities—enter school buildings that are not built to withstand extreme events. I hope that my focus on children and other marginalized populations can help support and advance the important work that NIBS does.  

“In addition, it is worth noting that the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that Americans spend about 90% of their time indoors. This demonstrates just how much buildings, and building safety, matters in terms of shaping our quality of life. As a sociologist, it is important to me to ensure that we understand which people live, work and go to school in which buildings, and how building safety influences overall health and well-being for diverse populations.”

It is important to me to ensure that we understand which people live, work and go to school in which buildings, and how building safety influences overall health and well-being for diverse populations."

Q: You work mostly with natural hazards. How do you feel disasters relate to building sciences?

A: “NIBS has led two of the most important studies that have ever been conducted on natural hazards mitigation. Their most recent 2019 report, Natural Hazard Mitigation Saves, found that for every $1 we invest in mitigation, we can save $11 from future averted hazards losses. NIBS has been at the forefront of demonstrating how these investments in our infrastructure can help save lives and limit the harm and disruption caused by disasters. This is absolutely crucial work, because the U.S. is currently trapped in a disaster loss spiral, where natural hazards events cost about $100 billion every year. Ensuring that our infrastructure is built to code and that we engage in wise land use practices can help limit economic losses and advance justice, equity and sustainability goals.”

Q: What do you feel is the significance of this nomination?

A: “President Biden has nominated a record number of women and people of color to various posts within the administration. I am proud to be among those ranks. In addition, I am not aware of a social scientist who has been appointed by the president to the board of NIBS in the past. I think this speaks to the growing recognition that many of the most vexing environmental and technical challenges that we face are actually rooted in social problems. I am excited to work with and learn from engineers, architects and other industry leaders so that we can come together to advance common goals associated with building safety and the greater societal good.”