New York Chapter: Resiliency in the Face of Disaster

New York Chapter: Resiliency in the Face of Disaster

  • by Architecture for Humanity
  • Jun 28, 2013
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When Sandy struck the Eastern Seaboard last October, the fate of the New York Chapter's recently-awarded disaster plan grant was immediately diverted from a mission of preparation. New York Chapter Managing Director Jennifer Dunn, AIA, LEED AP, reflects on how local design volunteers worked with Headquarters to engage and assess communities, and develop plans to rebuild stronger.

By Jennifer Dunn. Article originally appeared in the Chapters Quarterly - Spring 2013

In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, Architecture for Humanity New York’s members and volunteers were ready to help our communities in any way possible. As eager to contribute as we all were, the reality of the situation was that most of the New York Chapter lacked experience in responding to natural disasters. This opened up a great opportunity to leverage the expertise and support of our partners at Architecture for Humanity headquarters (HQ) with our local design community. Working with HQ, we were able to focus on a few strategic initiatives to contribute to the design of a more resilient New York.

The first imperative for the New York Chapter was to survey and document the existing conditions. The chapter organized and trained several teams in the months following the storm to go out in the field and conduct assessments. These surveys provided valuable information about the damage to structures, and the affected people and their stories. This information has been to great use by HQ’s Disaster team in beginning various projects.

On the Chapter level, we are using this information to design our Constructing Resilient Communities Program (CRCP). This program will educate home and business owners through workshops, providing them with knowledge to better sustain their homes or business spaces in changing climatic conditions. Through the CRCP, we will also connect them with industry professionals that will assist them in the rebuilding process, ultimately to build back stronger and to revive communities.

Mitigating the devastation of disasters through preventative design is vital to resilience; In addition, the aftermath of disasters must also be addressed. Once the major rush to gather information was over, the New York Chapter and disaster team took some time to look at what can be done better after the next storm. The resulting initiative was a Disaster Training for Chapter members. The goal of this training was to get familiar with HQ’s disaster response and to understand key factors, and when, why and how to create the best impact.

An important lesson was to understand the best use of the skills of architects and designers in the rebuilding phase of a disaster. The initial training was a two-day event and 20 Chapter members participated. Lead by Eric Cesal, Architecture for Humanity’s Reconstruction & Resiliency Studio Director, the Chapter was inspired to take the steps to put the information into a guide that we can use for continued training, and that can prepare us to respond effectively in the aftermath of future disasters.

HQ Studio Director Eric Cesal orients 20 New York Chapter
members to disaster training

Field assessments, in Tottenville, Staten Island, New York

The experience of Superstorm Sandy is one that continues to challenge Architecture for Humanity New York to practice humanitarian design with a different sense of urgency than we typically face in our Chapter projects.

As most, if not all, Chapters can relate, balancing the efforts and resources of a volunteer organization can be daunting. We Chapters depend on the passion, commitment, and skills of our members to drive meaningful design forward. With the continued support and guidance of HQ, the New York Chapter can build up its Disaster assessment, training, and resources such as the Constructing Resilient Communities Program.

With these tools and prepared teams, the Chapter will be able to mobilize itself quickly and effectively after the next storm or disaster. As we continue our efforts to design a more resilient New York, we look forward to sharing our experiences with other Chapters, in hopes that our experience might help more communities in the event of a storm or other disaster.