THE BLOG
10/29/2013 01:56 pm ET Updated Dec 29, 2013

Hurricane Sandy -- One Year Later

In the last few years, strong, devastating storms are seemingly becoming the rule, rather than the exception. We see above-normal numbers of "super storms" forming and wreaking havoc across the globe -- and they're happening nearly every season. Despite warnings, last minute preparations in terms of boarding windows, sandbagging and other traditional means of "battening the hatches," we now know that this is not enough.

With the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy now upon us, we're reminded of this. If this storm taught us anything -- and it taught us much -- buildings and infrastructures must also be updated and modified to be able to withstand the increasingly powerful storms Mother Nature throws at us.

While other major storms have affected the nation and world of late, it was hard to get past the 13 states in the U.S. directly hit when Sandy made landfall last October. Several chapters of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) in the hardest-hit areas of the Northeast -- including New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Rhode Island -- have joined forces to collaborate on rebuilding the affected communities, using both critical problem-solving thinking and deep knowledge of design to try and figure out how to move past the devastation of the storm and create structures that can better withstand severe weather.

As these groups continue to weigh options of how to rebuild after Hurricane Sandy, we are forced to address the challenges of a post-Sandy world. However, it's not just rebuilding that needs to be addressed, but lessons learned. How can we rebuild for when another superstorm makes landfall? Are we prepared for a strong earthquake? How can we better build for all types of natural disasters?

Much of the media attention post-Sandy has been on New Jersey's shore and beach communities, but that is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to damage.

Collectively, Hurricane Sandy was a disastrous blow to many millions of homeowners and business owners alike, causing more than $80 billion in property damage, damaging 650,000 buildings and displacing entire communities with no certainty of when and how normalcy would be restored. This is why leaders from the four collaborating Northeast AIA chapters have come together to form a broader network that can work together to find solutions and bring about results.

Architects are well equipped to address the issues left in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. By sharing best practices in areas such as resiliency, sustainability, health, safety and welfare, and the number of additional obstacles encountered as a result of the storm, we can start to form a foundation for how to address community- and region-wide devastation when it happens.

Local chapters who have collaborated have also been able to hold workshops in some of the areas hardest hit by Sandy.

These local groups of architects organized charrettes to figure out the next best steps. Following the flow of a program the AIA established in 1967 -- the R/UDAT (Regional/Urban Design Assistance Team) program pioneered the modern charrette process by combining multi-disciplinary teams that assess areas in need of resurgence or in some cases a true resuscitation -- these groups were able to gain a clear view on the work that needs to be done. Done over the course of an intense and multi-day grassroots process which produces community visions, action plans and recommendations on how to move forward -- whether that be for how to attract commercial businesses into the area to how to maintain a sense of community while modernizing structures. And the key to this is collaboration. Architects sharing lessons learned, best practices, fresh thinking.

To date, these types of workshops have been held by these local chapters in the Rockaways, Hoboken, Jersey City and Newark. With recommendations and thoughts around what is needed to move on, these include ideas around building a coastal line of defense, creating new zones, adding and raising new streets, modest upgrades to building codes. In fact, in the coming weeks, there will be more recommendations and next steps.

But this is only the beginning of the group's work to rebuild the area. Despite the assessments, there is still work to be done, which immediately includes an even deeper look at: waterfront and infrastructure, regulation around new and existing buildings, creating sustainable and resilient systems for buildings and continuing to think and identify problems and what could be problems and solve them before they occur. We expect to see more activity in the coming months as problems continue to be identified, and then the charettes and teams can work to find the solutions. You can track our progress and updates at: http://postsandyinitiative.org/.

Whether it's a hurricane, tornado, earthquake -- we must continue to learn how to adapt to our seemingly changing climate and environment. Through these regional and national collaborations, we know we'll continue to make strides. And while every disaster is different, architects and designers will be at the ready to help create a plan for recovery. We need to learn from each experience, in the hopes that it starts to minimize suffering and hardship from future disasters and storms. While we can't prevent natural disasters from happening, we can help communities come back stronger and better than before.

Mickey Jacob is the president of the American Institute of Architects.

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