Last week at the American Institute of Architects South Carolina annual convention we celebrated our 100th anniversary. As part of the convention thirty-five architects were trained to assist building officials in building safety assessment after a disaster. The seven hour seminar, done through the American Institute of Architect’s Disaster Assistant Program, has been taught to architects throughout the country. After the 2011 tornadoes in North Alabama 73 architects volunteered nearly 1,300 hours in Tuscaloosa alone. These volunteers helped people return to their homes and start rebuilding their lives. The rapid assessments determine if a building is structurally sound and habitable without other non-structural hazards such as electrical, plumbing, mold, and/or emergency egress issues. The building is then labeled with one of three colored placards. Green means it’s safe to return. Yellow means that it is safe to enter temporarily and gather belongings and red means it is unsafe. The assessments and photographs are then turned into the local building department and FEMA.
A building with a Green Placard can be damaged , yet remain safe. Examples of damage considered safe include: temporary utility interruption, debris and/or water in the yard, cosmetic damages, and water intrusion in non-essential living space only.
Yellow Placard indicate restricted use. The restricted use may allow the homeowner to enter part of the building or the extent of damages cannot be determined by the rapid evaluation team and a more thorough inspection is required. Damages that are considered restricted use include: damage to structural components, water standing for more than 24 hours which will cause more damage such as mold, buckling floors and sub-flooring, damage that affects the safety, sanitation and/or security of the residence and wind damage that requires replacement of the roof, windows or siding.
Unsafe buildings noted with the Red Placard pose an imminent threat to life or safety. This is not a demolition order; demolition can only be determined by the building official. Unsafe buildings include: structures that are not feasible to repair, complete foundation and/or structural failure, and danger due to collapse hazard.
A key component of the AIA’s Disaster Assistant Program is the Good Samaritan Act that the South Carolina Legislature in 2012. It protects architects and engineers who are assisting local building departments in the assessments from liability issues. The act allows their services to occur within 30 days of a declared disaster at the request of the Governor.
The instructor, Michael Lingerfelt, FAIA has provided numerous safety assessment evaluations including Hurricane Katrina, Northridge California earthquake, and the tornadoes in North Alabama. He had endless stories about his experiences but one of the most significant was after a hurricane. Every house in the entire area was destroyed except one. Everyone wanted to know what the homebuilder had done differently and he didn’t have an answer. He said, “ I just built it to code.”