2017 Edition, Issue 2

Architects Respond to Natural Disasters

Disasters are occurring with more frequency and intensity, and it is the architects’ responsibility to protect the public’s health, safety, and welfare. Architects can take on crucial roles following a natural disaster such as fires, earthquakes, or floods. Oftentimes, architects are called upon to assess damage and provide planning, design assistance, and rebuilding of homes, businesses, and communities.

At the time a disaster hits and is declared by the Governor, the Board issues press releases and coordinates with other federal and state agencies to expedite turnaround time for issuing building permits, participates in workshops, and disseminates information through consumer assistance centers in affected counties. The Board also provides a toll free phone number for victims to speak directly with an architect regarding the recovery and rebuilding process.

After disasters occur, there is a critical need for architects to help communities understand what happened to their buildings and aid disaster victims with recovery and rebuilding efforts. The Safety Assessment Program (SAP) through the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services provides resources, such as volunteers and mutual aid to local governments assisting with the evaluation of buildings and infrastructures in the aftermath of a disastrous event. SAP evaluators are licensed architects, engineers, and building officials. To become an SAP disaster service worker or for further information, please visit the SAP website.

California has a Good Samaritan Law for licensed architects, engineers, and land surveyors who, at the request of a public official, provide safety inspection services, without compensation, at the scene of a declared national, state, or local emergency caused by a natural disaster. This law provides immunity from liability to "good samaritan" architects who provide these services. This immunity only applies for an inspection that occurs within 30 days of the declared emergency.

As the frequency, severity, and costs of natural and manmade disasters continue to impact the built environment, the unique skill sets that architects bring to all phases of emergency management are more critical than ever.