November President's Corner

November 11, 2012

HURRICANE SANDY, AIA-NJ DISASTER ASSISTANCE AND THE VALUE OF THE ARCHITECT:

In light of recent events that have occurred with the severe devastation of Hurricane Sandy, our member architects are being offered the opportunity to aid in disaster recovery. What is it that makes architects vital as a government resource for disaster assistance?  Architects are uniquely trained in the building arts and construction science. They possess a keen awareness of stability and structural integrity, in addition to a comprehensive understanding and knowledge of the NJ Uniform Building Code.

Shortly after 911, while things were still very unstable and frightening, the government issued a color coded warning system. Different colors indicated different levels of risk.  In Northern New Jersey, within close proximity of downtown Manhattan, conditions were always on elevated to high alert.  Certain elements, such as planning and logistics, of both the 1993 WTC Bombing and 9/11 were developed in New Jersey.

We have a two mile stretch of the New Jersey Turnpike that is considered the most dangerous and potentially critical and vulnerable for terrorist attack in America. Located in that area are 15 targets, including, but not limited to: fuel refineries, chemical plants, Newark International Airport, and Port Newark. Our state has a risk of attack and a history of terrorist activity, but terrorists aren’t the only thing that New Jersey has to worry about.

New Jersey has over 300 miles of waterfront coast line, which stretches from the Hudson River to Cape May, and back up around the west side of the state.  Among these areas there are low lying towns, cities, ports and the Jersey Shore resort spots.  We also have numerous inland rivers and estuaries, such as the ones that go through the meadowlands that flow up to the Hackensack River, which present considerable risk for flooding. Our vulnerability for tidal surge is as risky as New Orleans.

What I am getting at is here in New Jersey: whether or not there is a terrorist risk at the moment, or we are presented with a strong and unique vulnerability to natural disaster.  We need to be prepared and organized.  We are all aware of these risks already (or at least we should be).  The next step is dealing the problems presented by these risks. Today we are faced with an event of unprecedented magnitude, as we the people of New Jersey, have been devastated by Hurricane Sandy.  The hardest hit areas are on the coast of the Jersey Shore but areas around the State are equally devastated.  Architects were instrumental to the built environment of these areas, and we will be crucial to the reconstruction.

In an effort to provide disaster assessment services as AIA-NJ architects, I have written a proposal to Governor Chris Christie.  It offers our assistance in disaster recovery, specifically from our member architects who have received training in disaster recovery. We have requested the Governor to accept our offer with the provisions that he enact a proclamation that would provide protection to architects by eliminating and limiting liabilities for architects who serve on the recovery efforts within the state.  We hope that he accepts this proposal.

Over the years I have talked with architects from New Jersey who have wanted to assist and volunteer in the efforts in other disaster areas such as Katrina, earthquake areas of Chile, Cuba, and other locations all over the world. But now, it is here at home where we need as many volunteers as possible. We, AIANJ, are going to provide refresher courses in disaster recovery and train those architects who are willing to provide services for this effort.  I have recently spoken to Cooper Martin from AIA National about this plan and we are following through with it. If you would like to participate in the upcoming training, call Kelly Biddle at AIA-NJ (609-393-5690) to be placed on the list of attendees.

In order to make our disaster assistance offer more feasible, accessible and attractive, I maintain that protection from liability by way of a proclamation from the Governor is crucial. I trust that as president of AIANJ and the Chairman of the AIANJ Homeland Security Committee, the members of AIANJ will stand behind me in this request for us to give our support and expertise and come the aid of all the people of New Jersey who have suffered these terrible losses.

This is our profession, let’s keep it strong and let’s keep it ours.

Laurence E. Parisi, AIA

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