Disaster Recovery for Architects


Photo by: John Roberts, AIA

On the evening of March 28th, 2000, I stood huddled in a small interior room of the Sanger building in Sundance Square, while an F3 tornado tore a 4-mile path through Fort Worth, causing $500 million in damage and taking two lives.My wife and I were attending an AIA (American Institute of Architects) meeting when the storm hit, imploding a huge wall of glass into the space where dozens of architects were enjoying cocktails and hors d'oeuvres.We waited for the storm to pass and then stumbled wide-eyed into the street to find devastation.

One of the first things I encountered in the street was a storage rack of architectural plans that had been blown out a window from many floors above.I remember the CRUNCH, CRUNCH of broken glass under our feet as we made our way back to our now windowless vehicles.As we headed west towards home, we followed a path of destruction.It was that experience that gave me specific interest in both disaster preparedness and recovery.

On average, Texas experiences 130 tornadoes each year according to FEMA.Living in North Texas, the monthly siren test is a constant reminder of the lurking weather hazards of our area.With any natural disaster, such as hurricanes, flooding, earthquakes or tornadoes, architects have an opportunity to use our training and experience for the benefit of the community. Our help can be funneled in several directions, but specific ways include policy and building code updates, and boots on the ground.Architects can serve as advisors to local and state government to strengthen building codes and implement disaster preparation plans. Inclusion of weather-safe rooms will be coming to building codes soon. Architects can also volunteer with recovery efforts.One of the most important activities following a disaster (after the initial search and rescue operation has been completed) is getting people back in their homes to recover their belongings and rebuild their lives.As architects, we have unique training to assist with these efforts. '

I, along with fellow VLK employee, Thomas Stewart, AIA completed certification training provided by Cal OES (California Office of Emergency Services), who manages training efforts nationwide, along with additional training through FEMA to become 2nd responders in the event of a disaster. If an event is too large for local authorities to handle with their own forces, Cal OES certified inspectors can be deployed to do post-disaster safety evaluation of buildings to rate the safety of the structures.The more quickly we can tag a home or building as safe, the sooner owners can return. It is an architect's job to protect the health, safety and welfare of our buildings occupants.I feel that it is important for me to do my part, as I would hope others would help me in case of emergency.