Damage after the derecho.
Fort George G. Meade Public Affairs Office, Flickr Creative Commons Damage after the derecho.

When the derecho hit the parts of the East Coast and the Midwest earlier this month, all hell broke loose. Millions lost power—some for more than a week’s time—and the death toll was reported to be as high as 24 people, according to some sources. When a natural disaster strikes, everyone wants to chip in. But where do you start?

If you’re a caring neighbor you might go volunteer at the Red Cross, but it doesn’t work like that for architects, AIA national manager of community resilience Cooper Martin says. “When architects want to use their skillset to help out, they have to access disaster assistance differently than a neighborhood volunteer might.”

Under the new Disaster Grant Program, a part of the Disaster Resiliency and Recovery Program, five local groups received a total of $10,000 to go toward implementing disaster preparedness and response programs. The programs, which will be rolled out in the second half of this year, involve advocacy, education, and training components, depending on each chapter’s needs.

One of the major issues that the programs are looking to address is states’ varying Good Samaritan laws. Roughly half of the states in the U.S. have a form of a Good Samaritan law in place that protects individuals from being held liable for any perceived malpractice when they step in to help. But for the other half that don’t have such a law, the AIA recommends that architects in those states resist offering assistance as they could be putting their practices at risk, Martin says.

The Disaster Grant Program is a joint effort between the AIA and Architecture for Humanity and is the first phase in the Disaster Resiliency and Recovery Program, Architecture for Humanity design fellow Audrey Galo says. A main aim of the program, which was modeled after California’s Safety Assessment Program, will be to provide safety assessments on structures following a disaster. Architects will evaluate a building and then tag the building with a red, yellow, or green flag, depending on how much structural damage it sustained.

“Even if a building is safe, an owner might not know that,” Martin said. “It’s reassuring to see a green tag out there.”

The five recipients of this year’s grants are Architecture for Humanity D.C. Chapter Disaster Response Project, Washington State Disaster Preparedness and Response, NYC Safety Assessments Trainings, Disaster Assistance Coordination Network in Maryland, and Illinois Architects’ Emergency Management/Disaster Response Workshop.

Galo says the partnership between the AIA and Architecture for Humanity is a long-term deal, with more grants to come in the future. In this age of erratic weather, we could use all hands on deck.