in what is becoming an all too familiar scene, individuals and organizations alike, are being called on to respond to the devastating effects of natural disasters abroad and at home. Whether it be the Southeast Asian tsunami in December 2004, or the more recent hurricanes Katrina and Rita, these events have had a monumental impact physically and psychologically. Everyone is affected to one degree or another, and our response-or what some would argue in the wake of Katrina is the lack of response-will impact us for generations to come. While there will be plenty of time later to point fingers, there is real work being done now. These natural disasters provide architecture, urban planning, engineering, historic preservation, and design professionals an opportunity to use their skills to make a contribution greater than just a financial donation alone could provide.


The response from the design community has been far reaching. Professional organizations have set up areas on their websites directing members to information resources, volunteer activities, and disaster relief organizations, such as the American Red Cross.

The American Institute of Architects is engaged in a series of response initiatives for both immediate and long-term planning. They have established the 'Displaced Architects Fund' to provide immediate financial assistance to architects in need, as well as an online registry where architects can request equipment-computers, furniture, telephones-in order to restart practices. An online matching service has also been set up to provide a searchable database for individuals looking for employment and firms with job openings.

One of the most immediate needs in the wake of the disaster is housing. The AIA calls for 'transitional housing arrangements to be approached with the basic design principles that go into developing liveable communities,' and that 'to maintain the viability of the local architecture, economy, and the character of the affected regions, companies who receive federal rebuilding contracts should sub-contract work to area architecture firms.'

The AIA is also working on several federal legislative initiatives including: Tax incentives and federal grants to assist in the preservation and rebuilding of Katrina-damaged structures; passage of federal and state 'Good Samaritan' legislation to protect design professionals from liability during voluntary provision of free services during emergency and natural disaster responses; a $200 million federally funded program to repair and construct new schools; and funding for 10 new community demonstration projects in the affected regions.

Local AIA chapters, such as New York, are coordinating their efforts with the National AIA. The New York Chapter is using its New York New Visions multi-disciplinary planning and organizational structure, developed in the aftermath of September 11, as a template for rebuilding plans in the impacted areas. The chapter will focus its efforts on housing assistance, building reconstruction, and community redevelopment. Fundraising efforts are being structured via a Disaster Relief Fund through the nonprofit Center for Architecture Foundation.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has launched a major campaign to preserve 'the historic and cultural resources' of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. With support from the Getty Foundation, survey teams are being dispatched to the region to assess damage. In a press release, the Trust describes several of their legislative initiatives: 'To facilitate the use of existing tax-credit incentives for the rehabilitation of hurricane-damaged historic properties; development of a new tax-credit program for the rehabilitation of owner-occupied historic houses; and the creation of a two-year, $60 million fund that would offer grants to help preserve properties listed in, or eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.' To support these efforts, the Trust has established the National Trust Hurricane Katrina Recovery Fund with an overall goal of raising $1 million. The Getty Foundation has already committed $100,000.

The American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) has pledged $25,000 to the American Red Cross' relief efforts and have launched the ASID Hurricane Relief Effort resource page. The site contains information for members who require immediate assistance, and information for ASID chapters, members, and the general public interested in donating to relief organizations or offering assistance to displaced members, and a list of temporary and permanent job opportunities, along with available workspaces. The ASID, which has 48 chapters throughout the United States and Canada, and over 38,000 members, is also considering dues relief for members affected by the hurricanes.

At the grassroots level, organizations like Architecture for Humanity are mobilizing volunteers and providing information resources. Archinect, a news and information architecture website, has created a comprehensive section on its site with job postings, disaster-related news, donation and volunteer activities, related discussions, and public announcements.


Immediate measures taken by the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA), General Electric, and Meyda Tiffany are just a few examples of timely and necessary responses to alleviate some of the damage caused by Katrina and Rita.

John Minick, a Gulf Coast field representative for NEMA, personally distributed guidelines for handling water-damaged electrical equipment to electrical distributors, contractors, and inspectors in the devastated areas. The brochure has since been incorporated into the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) manual.

In addition to a financial donation to the Red Cross, General Electric is assisting recovery efforts by organizing a disaster preparation and response action plan. Teams from the company's business units are helping to restore power and provide equipment, water, and security throughout Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. Additional groups from lighting, electrical distribution, and motors operations are working to establish 24/7 customer support and emergency response teams, extend payment terms for distributors in declared disaster areas, release damaged-equipment safety warnings, and help distributors bring in inventory to support relief efforts. At the appliances plant in Alabama, employees are producing 35,000 16-cubic-foot refrigerators for FEMA's onsite trailers.

In Utica, New York, lighting manufacturer Meyda Tiffany has selected Feed The Children as its charity of choice, and is working with local businesses to collect supplies. As of September 13, three trucks have made their way to Mississippi and Louisiana.

It will be many years before the communities in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Texas are fully rebuilt. The last 30 days represents only just the beginning of what will be a long-term effort affecting environmental, political, economic, and cultural discussions about the rebuilding process. a|l