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19 November 2012

RI AEER TF-7 Deployment Hurricane Sandy 2012 10 30 through 2012 11 03

As most Rhode Islanders know, our State dodged Hurricane Sandy’s full effects by approximately some 225 miles. Yet, our State was caught up in the significant fringes of the storm’s ocean impacts.

Our southern coast received both the storm surge and wave action that seriously crippled Westerly, RI in the Misquamicut Beach area and the Charlestown, RI coast area.

In the Westerly area, there were approximately 800 businesses and homes impacted. Most of the significant damage in Westerly was along Atlantic Avenue. In the Charlestown area, the beach residences took a hit from both the ocean storm surge and wave action as well.

The RI Architects & Engineers Emergency Response Task Force 7 [RI AEER TF-7], a professional volunteer organization, in relationship with the RI Urban Search and Rescue Task Force 1 [USAR] under the control of the RI Emergency Management Agency, was requested to deploy in the early morning hours of Tuesday, October 30, less than 24 hours after RI experienced the coastal flooding and storm surge from Hurricane Sandy. Our teams were on site, ready to proceed in less than four hours after the call. That readiness was due to our tight organizational structure and the specific training that includes both building assessment as well as deployment safety training.

Our initial deployment on Tuesday was in a joint mission with the RI USAR along Atlantic Avenue, in the Misquamicut Beach area, that was particularly devastated by the ocean’s water and the sand overwash. We deployed a total of three teams of professional architects and engineers in the role of Building Safety Evaluators under the authority granted through application of RI General Law Title 30, Chapter 30-15 Emergency Management, as disaster response workers.

Atlantic Avenue was covered by a sand layer some three to four feet in depth, not in drifts, but as a uniform layer of beach sand blown and swept in from the adjacent beach and dunes. Littering the avenue and surrounding land was extensive, with debris from damaged buildings, exterior and interior materials, occupant contents including storm relocated vehicles and appliances, and site improvements. Damage ranged from building structures breeched through crushed or missing exterior walls with some buildings filled with several feet of sand and stones to extensive sand scouring that had undermined foundations and pilings, to even more current code compliant structures with missing or heavily damaged decks and stairway access structures. Several building structures were completely displaced from their foundations and transported a distance from their original property.

On that Tuesday our RI AEER TF-7 teams of two to three volunteers evaluated some sixty-two commercial and residential building structures in approximately six hours. The structures posted varied from the ‘Green’ Safe to Occupy card identifying buildings that were reasonably safe to occupy to the ‘Yellow’ Restricted Access card, indicating restricted access conditions, to the most severe ‘Red’ Unsafe to Enter card declaring the structure unsafe due to the potential dangerous conditions present.

While USAR searched for people potentially trapped, injured or worse, within the various structures, our teams followed in quick succession, evaluating the buildings for structural integrity and life safety parameters.

On Wednesday our RI AEER TF-7 team again deployed at the request of the Westerly Building Official to the RI Emergency Management Agency [RI EMA] to continue the assessments for storm affected structures. A total of twenty-six additional structures in the Misquamicut Beach area were evaluated for structural and life safety conditions. Through RI EMA, we were furnished a vehicle with driver who acted as our radio communications officer keeping our team in radio contact with the Westerly Emergency Operations Center [EOC] housed in the Westerly Police Headquarters. A team from the RI State Building Commission was also in the adjacent area evaluating additional structures.

On Thursday, at the request again of the Westerly Building Official, our RI AEER TF-7 team again deployed from the Westerly EOC, continued to assess and evaluate building structures along Atlantic Avenue including the Misquamicut State Beach facility. Again, from RI EMA, we received transportation and communications support. A total of twenty additional structures were evaluated and posted accordingly.

The RI AEER TF-7 teams of professional architects and engineers, in three days, evaluated and posted 108 structures in the hardest hit area of Westerly, RI.

On Friday, the 2nd of November, RI EMA, at the request of the Charlestown Building Official, organized teams to deploy on Saturday and Sunday in the Charlestown area to provide more detail assessment of previously posted structures that had sustained structural damage. On Saturday, a total of fifty-five structures in the Charlestown area were evaluated and postings were confirmed and/or changed accordingly.

Due to the swift and aggressive efforts by our team on Saturday, the Sunday deployment team was not required by the Charlestown Building Official.

During our deployment, the RI AEER TF-7 volunteers responded to the request of State and Local officials to assist with the initial recovery efforts within the first five days following the devastation. A total of 163 structures were assessed.

The Architects and Engineers in Rhode Island established this professional organization as a disaster assistance resource available to assist the State of Rhode Island and communities with in the State when professional building safety assessments are required as a result of declared disaster events.

Being trained and actively participating in mock response scenarios for the events that we all hope never occur; our organization is prepared and ready to answer the call for rapid mobilization to provide accurate, initial rapid and detail building safety evaluations. Our rapid and effective response during Hurricane Sandy is evidence of our specific building safety evaluation skills, team safety responsibilities, and deployment procedures learned through our training, that we, as disaster response workers, bring to the disaster impacted areas.

The Rhode Island Architects and Engineers Emergency Response Task Force 7 [RI AEER TF-7] is an associate unit of the RI Urban Search and Rescue Task Force 1.  In declared disaster events by the Governor of RI, the RI AEER TF-7 operates under the authority of the RI Emergency Management Agency.  

Additionally RI AEER TF-7 members may be deployed under the authority of the RI State Building Code Commissioner and local Building Code Officials when they require additional resources to complete critical missions involving life safety and building structure evaluations during such events from the roof overloading from wet snow in the winter of 2011 and during the post earthquake response at the request of the RISBC for the RI State Capitol and other State facilities in August of 2011.

The response to disaster events by architects has long been recognized and promoted by the American Institute of Architects.  Similar activities by the various engineer organizations such as the National Council of Structural Engineers Association’s, Structural Engineer Emergency Response committee [SEER program] have made significant strides in developing building safety evaluators.

While there is a core starting group of architects and engineers that have assembled over the past several years, qualified volunteers are needed and welcomed.  Please contact us with your interest.

We will be holding essential training events over the next year so that we can grow our ranks, increase our capacity to assist the citizens of Rhode Island during times of great urgency and need, to help make our storm affected buildings safe and secure while quickening the road to recovery.

We welcome your participation, and hope to see you.

Respectfully submitted,

Rhode Island Architects & Engineers Emergency Response Task Force 7


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