Disaster Response

AIA Illinois is part of a growing statewide roster of building professionals trained by the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) to respond as volunteers to natural disasters in the State of Illinois.

A team of architects, professional engineers, structural engineers, and building officials from OSHA worked together in Washington, IL, in November of 2013 to assess the damage done by an EF-4 tornado.

The volunteers respond quickly. “IEMA called us late Tuesday, and we immediately sent out a notice to those on the list who lived within a half-hour drive of Washington,” said Mike Waldinger, Hon. AIA, Exec. VP of AIA Illinois. “Last night we notified a larger radius of volunteers, including Springfield and Champaign.”

In Washington, three teams were deputized by Tazewell County Emergency Management. They completed assessments in one large apartment complex consisting of 14 different buildings, as well as a nearby church that was being used to serve food to relief volunteers. While the church was found to be safe, the apartments were mostly tagged with yellow and red tags: red being entirely unsafe and yellow meaning restricted to certain conditions.

Waldinger reported that most of the three-story buildings were missing the top floor and debris was everywhere. “The best case scenario was if we determined that the residents could come in to the first and second floors to collect their medicines, their wallets, their photos, and other important belongings,” he said.

But that wasn’t always the case. In one building, the team started up a flight of stairs only to realize that farther up it had collapsed and was hanging. In another case, the team was trying to find one of the buildings on the map that was used for laundry and mailboxes. They found a trail of washers and dryers leading back to a hole in the ground.

The professionals’ work allowed the property managers and city government to have another, impartial set of eyes, but perhaps more important, provided answers to the residents whose lives were literally turned upside down. The greater density in the complex meant many people were left homeless, and it is likely that many in the apartments don’t have as much insurance as people who own their homes. Both factors made the apartment assessments a high priority for the county and local officials.

Aaron Stone, AIA, LEED AP, of Allied Design Architectural & Engineering Group, P.C., took the IEMA training, which certifies the participant for five years, in February 2012. He helped with flood damage assessments in Peoria County in spring 2013 and answered the call again in Washington. “I think it’s important to try to help out your neighbors whenever there’s a tragedy like this. Sometimes our team had to crawl over trees and debris to get to an entrance. Based on our assessments yesterday, the owners said they’d develop a strategic plan to clear the doorways and take other steps so the tenants can retrieve their belongings.”

As of February 2015, the volunteer roster is full and we are not taking on new participants. 

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