August 25—Hurricane Harvey slams the Texas coast, and architects respond immediately with contributions and the offer of volunteers to help with building safety assessments in those counties within the disaster area.
September 1-2—TxA responds by offering important Rapid Building Safety Assessment training classes, where approximately 90 additional licensees were certified, ready for immediate deployment.
September 6-10—TxA volunteers join assessment teams in Aransas County and then deploy to Orange County September 14-18, many going directly there after finishing training in Houston only hours earlier.
September 14-15—90 additional member-volunteers are trained in similar programs offered by AIA Houston, despite chapter offices having been flooded. (AIA Corpus Christi will offer safety assessment training October 14, too.)
September 21—At-Large City Councilman David Robinson, AIA lets us know that Houston has just made a State of Texas Assistance Request (STAR request), which engages our growing pool of trained volunteers—probably in large numbers.
October 4—No new or additional STAR requests, not even assignment details in response to the City of Houston 8/21 original STAR request.
Today’s reality is there likely won’t be many more Harvey-related requests for volunteer assistance. Depending on the assessment needs ultimately decided upon by the City of Houston in the very near future, we will either have one significant flurry of volunteer deployments…or we’re done with large post-Harvey placements. Any that are made will likely be for smaller jurisdictions with fewer available resources and less manpower—like Hardin County, LaGrange or Wharton.
Tomorrow’s reality, however, is that we need as many certified (either Cal-OES or FEMA—or both) architect and engineer volunteers as possible. Our goal is to have at least 500 currently certified (yes, certification must be periodically refreshed) if and when disaster strikes. We need to be organized by experience, geography and storm-type, able to provide balanced professional teams of both architects with engineers, seasoned veterans and eager interns.
VOLUNTEERS: please don’t be discouraged if we do not receive any more large placements. You can still be of help now, and you will be needed—probably sooner than later. You must be ready when asked; we must make sure you are asked when ready.
- We must continue to certify volunteers. The 200+ certified in September and October (plus about 45 more trained in AIA Dallas seminars from 2013-16) are a great start toward the number we should have ready for immediate deployment when the next event occurs—and, in Texas, we know another one is coming soon.
- The type of disaster event determines how many and how soon volunteers are needed. “Rising-water floods” (as opposed to “swift-moving water” ones) will likely result in different volunteer requests than tornados, hurricanes or flash-flooding events.
- Economic assessments are ultimately every bit as important to a building owner as safety ones, so—whether you do them early or late, as a volunteer or a FEMA contractor paid to perform more detailed projects—all are important.
- Building safety assessments aren’t the only need volunteers can fill. Local governments need help coming up with cumulative damage assessments to meet FEMA requirements, plus local and regional emergency plans are routinely updated following events to incorporate the most recent “lessons learned.” Architects can play a major role in this, and in planning to avoid damage losses before the next storm or man-made disaster hits.
- Just as individual architects must continually remind public officials of all they can do—especially in planning and preparing for the future—the Society must remind state officials and emergency planners to use architects more and better. Just like the times, players change, so there’s always a need to refresh who and what we know.