Two hurricanes are gone, but are my buildings safe?

A building damaged by Hurrican Harvey

As the city of Houston begins the long process of recovery and rebuilding, and as the state of Florida and the southeast begin to cope with the damage left in Hurricane Irma's wake, it's important to know the crucial role architects can play in disaster preparedness and recovery.

State or local governments may not have the resources to respond adequately to the challenges that confront them after a disaster hits. In Houston, the city staff is supporting a population of 2.3 million people, covering 667 square miles, with unknown numbers of structures damaged by flooding or still flooded. The AIA Safety Assessment Program (SAP) training provides the specialized knowledge and technical skills to architects, engineers, and building inspectors needed to determine if a home or other building is safe and habitable.

AIA members have to abide by a Code of Ethics, which states:

E.S. 2.2 Public Interest Services: Members should render public interest professional services, including pro bono services, and encourage their employees to render such services. Pro bono services are those rendered without expecting compensation, including those rendered for indigent persons, after disasters or in other emergencies.

When architects are called upon by state or local jurisdictions to volunteer as second responders, they perform building safety assessments under the direction of a building official or other emergency official. Indeed, FEMA funded the development of the SAP to reduce the demand for temporary shelters and other services, and to be able to return residents to their homes and businesses as quickly and safely as possible.

The SAP training is a technical training program that includes Applied Technology Council (ATC) 20 Post-earthquake Safety Evaluation of Buildings and ATC-45 Safety Evaluation of Buildings after Wind Storms and Floods. The SAP reference sheet provides information on how to organize and host AIA SAP training.

Since 1972, the American Institute of Architects has recognized the importance of the role architects can play in preparing for and responding to disasters that affect the built environment. AIA’s Disaster Assistance Program has helped ensure that the AIA, its chapters, and its members are prepared to assist communities nationwide and internationally in leadership and volunteer roles to help those affected by a declared disaster return safely and quickly to their homes and businesses.

Rachel Minnery, FAIA, is AIA's senior director of sustainable development policy.

Image credits

A building damaged by Hurrican Harvey

AIA Disaster Assistance Committee

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