A Resilient Approach to Disaster Recovery

By Sherry-Lea Bloodworth Botop for Huffington Post

While the decade since Hurricane Katrina has been fraught with natural disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes, recovery from these disasters has often been delayed by wasteful spending of billions of well-intended charitable dollars.

That’s why those of us who raise funds for disaster recovery are so gratified that resilience is now being embraced as an underlying principle of architecture and design, and providing the hope for the future we need. At its core, resilience is an attempt to harness the mammoth post-disaster reservoir of “good will” resources – financial, intellectual and charitable – and direct it in a measured, coordinated way toward mitigation and prevention of future loss of life and property.

The deadly April 25 earthquake in Nepal – which killed more than 8,000 people – is a case in point. Right now millions of charitable dollars are still flowing into the country to help survivors with food and medical care. But how do you harness this funding stream to prepare for the next quake? What, how and where do you choose to rebuild? And when?

An agreement between the American Institute of Architects Foundation, now called the Architects Foundation, and the relief organization, All Hands Volunteers, may provide some guidance. The agreement calls for parties to collaborate on the program to be phased in over two years, working with the Society of Nepalese Architects(SONA), ARCASIA and the Department of Small Works – who will provide disaster recovery, design and technical resources. These groups will also work closely within the affected communities so the outcomes are aligned with the desired goals of the people and culture of Nepal. The initiative will provide stable and safe housing compliant with international model building codes with increased resilience to natural disasters. Training in related construction practices will be made available to enhance the long-term design and construction practices of Nepal.

The three-phase program, which the Architects Foundation will facilitate, involves initial assessment, planning and design with the impacted communities, in which experienced members of the Society of Nepalese Architects along with staff from All Hands – will perform a needs analysis to identify its first community in need. The intention is to design and build as many as 75 model homes, followed by training local tradespeople in disaster resilient and code compliant design strategies and techniques. The beneficiaries will then work with a community and a volunteer labor force drawn from within Nepal and globally through the end of December.

The final phase would allow the program to be extended into other villages and communities by working closely with local Nepalese community leaders.

An oft-cited obstacle we see in work like this is the significant lag time between stabilizing a disaster-stricken area through emergency humanitarian response and the implementing of viable recovery programs which return a sense of normalcy to those affected. By planning ahead now, while the humanitarian response is underway, this reconstruction program can bring additional resources to those efforts, overlapping the relief phase so as to rebuild communities that feel like home – but in an accelerated manner. This is what we don’t see currently happening when disaster strikes, and so this effort presents a unique opportunity to standardize a model that can be followed by others – nationally and internationally – moving forward.

Such an approach to rebuilding and recovery also has the indirect benefit of enhancing the knowledge and expertise of our colleagues in architecture and allied professions in the building industry internationally to create safer communities. Alongside the American Institute of Architects, we will work together to educate, provide resources, and share knowledge on how to not only rebuild quickly, but rebuild smarter.

Sherry-Lea Bloodworth-Botop is Executive Director of the Architects Foundation, the nonprofit social impact extension of the American Institute of Architects.