In the 5 Years since Hurricane Sandy, AIA-NJ has Increased their Commitment to Resiliency

October 29, 2017

Reading Time: 11 minutes



“AIA-NJ is really a model of how to get it done after a disaster.”

~ Illya Azaraoff, AIA

Contributors: Illya Azaraoff, AIA; Bruce Turner, AIA; Justin Mihalik, AIA and Laurence Parisi, AIA Editor: Stacey Kliesch, AIA


In 2012, in the weeks and months following Superstorm Sandy, AIA-NJ’s members were getting back on their feet. Many of them located in areas where the storm hit hardest not only were helping their clients to rebuild their homes, but were also figuring out how to rebuild their own. AIA-NJ architects were aware that the State still did not have a plan in place on how to rebuild, and FEMA was months away from updating base flood elevations. So how were homeowners to rebuild?

To make matters worse, the costs for elevating homes and rebuilding were four and five times the amount of available FEMA grants. It was at this time that AIA-NJ Executive Director Joseph Simonetta knew it was imperative for AIA-NJ to be at the forefront of the recovery and the first step was to meet with the Governor’s Office of Rebuilding and Recovery. Joe organized the meeting at the State House and AIA-NJ presented the issues that homeowners were facing approximately $150,000 in structural remediation per structure. Unbeknownst to AIA-NJ, the Governor’s Office was well underway preparing a report on the damage to real estate, infrastructure, and vital buildings.
The result of the meeting and the work of the Governor’s Office was the Reconstruction,
Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation Program (RREM). The program provides up to
$150,000 in grant funding assistance to eligible homeowners to repair or reconstruct their homes. Our Executive Director was vigilant ensuring that the recommendations of AIA-NJ were incorporated into the RREM program, which enabled thousands of residents to rebuild their homes within the following years.

Another achievement of AIA-NJ has been supporting the passing of the Good Samaritan Bill. Until Superstorm Sandy hit, the pushback from the legal community made passage of this bill impossible. In the wake of Sandy, AIA-NJ did not delay in moving on the legislation as the timing was right. Once again, Joe Simonetta knew this bill would be more impactful if the engineers joined on since they too would be performing building assessments along with the architects. Joe initiated lining up sponsors for the bill, drafting the bill and then coordinating the necessary meetings between AIA-NJ and NJ Professional Society of Engineers for the bill’s final language.
AIA-NJ reached out to the the New Jersey State Bar Association and addressed their concerns in order to pave the way for the bill’s passage. Through our executive director’s invaluable relationships with NJ’s key legislator’s, the bill was passed and signed into law by the Governor in 2013. Since passage, this legislation has become a template for other AIA Components as they work to have Good Samaritan legislation passed in their states.

Read more about the Good Samaritan Bill here.
Around the same time, the AIA-NJ Homeland Security Committee, founded by AIA-NJ Past President Laurence Parisi, AIA, recognized the need for our members to become proficient in disaster assistance training, resulting in over 400 professionals in the tri-state area certified to assist in the event of a catastrophy.

The program, named “Hurriplan,” utilized the California Emergency Management Agency Post-Disaster Safety Assessment Program (SAP) Training to educate our members to assist communities in disaster preparedness and response. Hurriplan was taught by leader Michael Lingerfelt, FAIA (served on the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Disaster Assistance Task Force since 2007) and co-leader Laurence Parisi, AIA. Those who completed the program are since on call to volunteer their services in the event of a disaster.


Read more on Hurriplan here.

And an article on disaster assistance training, here.


More recently, AIA-NJ has been calling on the expertise of Illya Azaroff, AIA to keep us most informed on resiliency best practices.

According to his Linkedin page, Azaroff’s +LAB Architect PLLC is a studio built on trans-disciplinary collaboration. He is a recognized expert in Resilient planning, design and implementation. He is a subject matter expert advising ASPR on the Federal Disaster Recovery Framework, works with city and federal agencies on all aspects of resilience. He was awarded the 2014 Young Architects Award by the AIA for innovative practice and leadership. Innovation, invention and inquiry underpin his work, such as prototyping disaster relief shelters and rapid response systems. Azaroff is an Associate Professor at NYCCT (CUNY) and serves on the board of directors for AIANY, he also serves at AIA National Advocacy Directory for YAF Young Architects Forum and has been recently elected to the AIA National Strategic Council. As founding co-chair of DfRR-Design for Risk and Reconstruction Committee, he plays a key role to the Post Sandy Initiative Report. He founded the AIA Regional Working Group with leaders from four regional states. Azaroff is a consultant to ORR – New York City Office of Recovery and Resilience, RCPT- Regional Catastrophic Planning Team and the DCP Housing Recovery Center in NYC. He is an instructor with NDTPC-National Disaster Training Preparedness Center and part of the RAMP-Resiliency Adaptation Mitigation and Planning program at Pratt Institute. Azaroff is trained in damage assessment (SAP) by Cal EMA. He has degrees in Geography and Architecture with research emphasis in climate-related disasters and resilient building strategies.

Azaroff was a featured presenter at the AIA-NJ 2017 East Coast Green Conference and can be heard on November 15, 2017 at the upcoming AIA Newark and Suburban lecture, Resilience in Practice. Registration for this event is open. All of the information is provided when you click here.

Illya was generous enough to participate in an interview with AIA-NJ. We share his knowledge and opinions with you here.

Q: Thinking back, would you have recommended that NJ residents took different action with regards to Superstorm Sandy?

A: Prior to any predicted disaster, I think residents and business owners most benefit by knowing their evacuation zones and understanding their risk.

With regard to the response after Superstorm Sandy, that’s a really tough question. I think most in New Jersey did the best they could do with the information they had and many have worked very hard to put life back in the place. Disasters are named as such for a reason and I think that the progress with AIA-NJ passing Good Samaritan legislation, influencing codes and zoning, really have worked to make New Jersey much more resilient. AIA-NJ is really a model of how to get it done after a disaster. For everyone involved with these types of disasters, I think we could have all done better in aligning new resilient measures with sustainable goals. Those alignments are key to the future of our communities.

Q: Should people be allowed to rebuild along coastal flood zones?

A: Complicated but let’s use an “if-then” statement… if the owner is aware of the risks and willing to take on the burden and consequences of those risks then and only then can that owner, on their own, rebuild. In addition, if the local authority knows the risks and consequences, agrees to maintain services such as power, water, fire and police access to at-risk properties, then go ahead and rebuild. If we really take a look at each condition and understand that in some cases reparation of wetlands and other natural systems, along with the development of waterfront community amenities, rather than rebuild contribute to a holistic, greater good for long-term resilience outweighs historic settlement patterns then we must take those outcomes seriously. Millions live in flood zones and the key is maintaining equity as people relocate through downzoning and managed a retreat. In other words, there are few instances that should allow people to continue to build in flood zones.

Q: What should be the role of government help?

A: The government is a vertical organization top-down network. Therefore enabling horizontal autonomous networks, which our communities, to thrive and be self-sufficient, should be their goal. Moreover, the government’s role is communicating the truth of projected risks and consequences, proactive zoning locally and a path for maintaining equity when relocation or retreat is needed. Enable local mitigation strategies by funding projects that serve a regional footprint and enable continued funding and enforcement for projects to outlive single term administrations. What I mean by that is that larger, comprehensive resilient measures often are decades to build, cross multiple political boundaries and lack enforcement to ensure proper function or reliability. The government should recognize and have ways to ensure continuity of project delivery.

Q: Do you agree with the revised flood maps?

A: In principle, yes, but updating regularly and communicating risk is needed. In addition, several cities have challenged the data to lessen the overall public backlash tied to cost of compliance, and local economies. This is short-sighted, truth in the numbers and increased compliance is needed for long-term security. Gaining a few smiles from voters is not in the interest of health safety and welfare in the long term.

Q: Can anything be done to protect communities from power outages?

A: Yes, yes and yes. ON-site power generation coupled with hardened infrastructure is key. When I mean on-site that can take several forms, solar and wind generation to the building, or tied to a small neighborhood or community microgrids, CHP systems, and campus-wide district energy systems all make for potentially resilient buildings and communities. Couple that with increased efficiencies to reduce demand of power through good passive design practices can bring Resilience from both ends of the spectrum.  Hardened infrastructure can be extreme such as burying the power grid delivery below ground, waterproof the system and secure upstream generation. That is really expensive but examples exist and it has proven to be successful in shocks and stresses, most recently in south Florida when IRMA came through.

Q: What should architects recommend to their clients when rebuilding after a hurricane or superstorm, possibly beyond what the laws require?

A: Beyond code is key, recognizing that the risks and the cost of addressing those risks through better building practice is attainable and the ROI through insurance breaks etc. is well documented. Taking clients through a THAM or SWOT analysis and layout risk to mitigation measure can give clients and understanding of your value and ensure business continuity and residential security.

Q: How can AIA inform the public and our members to be better prepared for future natural disasters?

A: I think the AIA is on a good track to accomplish both tasks informing the public and members about risks and preparedness for future disasters. One piece to AIA should continue is passing good Samaritan legislation throughout the United States. That will enable architects to be the solution when we need to react to disasters. I also believe that the AIA should work educating its members on holistic and comprehensive resilient building practice. Educating the profession in how we can build better buildings and communities should be within the mission of the national body. I understand that development of coursework on these subjects is in development and will be rolled out next year.

Q: Who could benefit from reading the AIA 2017 Disaster Relief Handbook?

A: Everyone! Really there is something for everybody in the manual regardless of geography. And this is not just AIA members its community leaders, allied professionals and resources for homeowners. It contains proactive measures and strategies along with resources for reactive circumstances immediately following a disaster. I encourage everyone to take a look, here.

Q: Besides moving to higher ground, what can the average citizen do prepare for future storms?

A: Future storms could be wind events, could be extreme heat, could be any number of shocks and stresses. So higher ground is one-dimensional resilience. Knowing what your risks are and addressing the top risks bring about multi-dimensional resilience. Even if the known risks that are lower down the rankings of any risk analysis are not immediately addressed in building or planning simply the awareness of all risks has an overall effect in Preparedness and mitigation. Lifeline support for you and your business is a good example.

In business, if I know I am at risk, do I have off-site data back up and insurance that covered potential loss of income? On a personal note, if I or a member of my family has prescription medication or other lifeline requirements, do I have enough or have access to alternate delivery of prescription medication if the pharmacy and doctor are not available due to disaster? That kind of knowledge builds resilient capacity and is not necessarily a “bricks and mortar” response.

Q: I think many people understand “at risk locations”, but given the variety of extreme weather events we face, such as Baton Rouge, LA, and Charleston, SC, which were 1,000-year events, what advice and recommendations do you have for those outside of the traditional 100-year flood zones, etc? What do we need to do to be prepared for these events? What are we doing?

A: First, the terminology needs to change as it engenders a false sense of security after a storm. Houston is a great example, 4 events in 5 years that exceed 100-year levels. So knowing the risk and that holistic approach to shocks and stresses, not just flooding would be my suggestion Along with regularly updating at risk mapping and science data to inform architects of the risks and challenges their projects and clients my face.

Q: People often think of resilience in terms of warm weather events – heavy rains, heavy winds, flooding. But, what about resilience to extreme cold events – ice, snow, etc? What do we need to know to be better prepared for these events?

A: Most of what we need in this instance is along the same lines of hazards mentioned in strategy, with slight differences in execution. Fundamental operation before, during and after an event must be maintained. Secure power and power backup must be accounted for, All air intake and outflow must be above predicted snow load and drifting, roof load must account for extreme snow/ice loading conditions to an acceptable degree of risk. Insulation that combats swings in temperatures cold or hot mitigate many areas of the risk including energy and human comfort, but also how water delivery is within the envelope is important to availed water delivery interruption. Layers of backup systems, passive systems, orientation, use of sunlight and other good design approaches assist in resilient profiles in extreme temperature events.

Q: We’ve trained our emergency responders, we’ve trained the trainers, we’ve held Hurriplan and the community resilience course. What should AIA NJ be focused on how to help address the issue of increased resiliency in New Jersey?

A: Become the feedback loop of project followthrough with state and city projects. Make sure they are being built and coordinated. To date, few projects have been built but much has been studied. In my opinion, Components should be the watchdog for proper coordination of federal to local, private and public projects to achieve comprehensive resilience and attain community security. It only takes a gap in resilient measures to undermine the best-made plans and intentions.

Q: What new policies are AIA National working on with regard to resilience?

A: Great question Sarah Dodge and Andrew Goldberg at AIA National gave me a brief list where AIA if focusing efforts. This is a very small part of the national effort on this front and does not include the major efforts responding to the recent disasters of Harvey, IRMA, Maria, and others. (


AIA spoke on a panel at the US Capitol on infrastructure and the importance of disaster-resistant codes that incorporate forward-looking climate data with the Build Strong Coalition

  • AIA’s public comment at each of two phases of the Disaster Deductible which, if implemented, will provide strong incentives for states to reduce their hazard risk through mitigation activities and stronger building codes.
  • Less recent (Nov 2016), but highly relevant:  AIA and NIBS, who co-host the Resilience Building Coalition, assembled guest speakers including Samantha Medlock, special advisor to former President Obama for “Changing Tides:  a conversation on flood risk mitigation” with many of the 42 signatories of the Building Industry Statement on Resilience. The focus of this meeting was to get a handle on the alternatives for the NFIP reauthorization and how it will impact the building industry.
  • AIA continues to monitor discussions related to the NFIP reauthorization
  • AIA is developing resilience education to include flood mapping, drought, design for flood mitigation, sea level rise and more.


Other Activities:

  • AIA is a sponsor of Mitigation Saves 2.0 (the study that showed that for $1 invested in mitigation, $4 in disaster recovery are saved.
  • AIA presented on a panel at the ASLA Annual Luncheon on the topics of infrastructure and resilience
  • AIA holds a seat as vice-chair of the Buildings and Facilities Committee of the NIST Community Resilience Panel
  • The National Resilience Initiative Annual Report has a case study on flooding due to sea level rise in Hampton Roads (Chesterfield Heights) from Hampton University


Internally the new curriculum for resilience mentioned above is being launched with the first 3 courses available soon. A long-term agenda has been adopted by the National Board directing funds and resources to the topic that has many working parts at all scales of the AIA including the KCs, BoKnoCo, Strategic Council, Disaster Assistance Committee and other working groups.  The strategic council conducted a yearlong study of how the AIA can and should engage Resilience with many short medium and long-term goals, the record of work can be found on the site under Journal of Work strategic council 2016.

Thank you, Illya, for participating.

To stay current on Illya’s advice, follow him on Twitter at @PlusLab 

To be informed on ways AIA-NJ is working further to increase NJ’s Resilience, be sure to follow us on Facebook. Click here to reach our page.


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