Hurricane Harvey; an opportunity for giving back and moving forward

It has been several months since my last post. While my own life has been slightly more chaotic due to the arrival of Hurricane Harvey on August 25, 2017, it is nothing in comparison to struggles of those caught directly in its path. The past seven weeks have been eye opening and life changing for Millions of Americans. Harvey is only one of three storms that have wreaked havoc on the lives of so many.

I’m hoping that by sharing my own story, you may think about your own and how you could help more. In addition to speaking at several upcoming conferences, I will be posting additional information about challenges and successes here in Texas following Harvey, and continuing to educate about the same topics I have already started.

For the last 7 plus years of my career, I have narrowed my professional focus on the health, safety and welfare side of the architectural profession. After the recession in 2008 I took a position with the State of Texas as a state and federal surveyor / inspector for licensed long-term care facilities. As life safety is one of the prime concerns in nursing, assisted living and other healthcare occupancies, I began to focus more and more on code compliance and whatever was necessary to protect the lives of those that could not protect themselves. It was not unexpected that in 2010 I also joined the Texas State Guard. The TXSG is a non-federalized branch of the Texas Armed Forces with a civil mission to provide assistance in times of disaster through evacuations, shelter management, supply distribution, evacuee tracking systems and numerous other jobs. The TXSG was a purely volunteer group, but I received formal training in FEMA NIMS, NICS and other programs necessary to fulfill our mission. While my service in the TXSG was for only a short time, and I never had to put myself in mortal danger, I learned a great deal about disaster response and what it means to serve for your fellow citizens.

I personally lived in Central Florida in 2004 when Hurricane Charley made its way across the state (and directly over our home). Having seen the damage that even a category one storm could do (it made landfall as a category four), I knew that I absolutely had to assist in any way I could when Hurricane Harvey slammed into the coast of Texas. I couldn’t sleep for days; frustrated I was unable to help with first-response relief efforts in all of those areas affected. If the logical half of my brain had not stepped in, I was about ready to buy a boat and head to Houston to assist in rescuing stranded residents.

The morning I learned that the regional chapters of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the Texas Society of Architects (The State level AIA Chapter known as TxA) were organizing training sessions for members to assist in damage assessments, I began preparations to deploy for as long as needed. I’m sure I was on the edge of annoying when it came to calling and emailing the fantastic people at TxA to make sure I was ready. After a full day of official training and some phone calls to another agency already in the field, I was left the next morning for the Coastal Bend area which included Rockport, Port Aransas, Aransas Pass and surrounding areas.

Thanks to the incredible support of my wife Stephanie Gillen and my business partner and best  friend Will Davies, I was able to make a big contribution. Over a period of 12 days away from home, I performed individual safety assessments; met with local officials across three counties; presented in front of county EOC teams; assisted in writing formal state assistance requests; performed windshield damage assessments; created detailed aerial maps and organizational systems, and then coordinated teams of 26-32 volunteers at a time.

I am now involved in organizing training sessions, collaborating with the national AIA office on new educational and advocacy programs for emergency preparedness, and working to create new systems for training, education for local governments and whatever is necessary to mitigate this and future disasters. At home, I have even talked with my daughter’s Girl Scout troop about what kind of help and donations are the most effective. I have already returned to the Rockport area to work with fellow architects to develop new tools and collaborate with local officials regarding awareness and education. I hope that involvement on a national level could advance preparedness, education and reduce damages incurred for Texans and anyone affected by natural (or man-made) disasters.

I love being an Architect. It’s what I’ve wanted to be since I was in 5th grade. What I do as an Architect has at times been blurred; having no specific direction or purpose. Over the last 7-8 years my focus has become much more clear. I am privileged to have been given the family, education, and resources necessary to develop my skills and expertise. I now know that it is my responsibility to use that privilege to protect those who cannot protect themselves, educate those who can, and give a helping hand to those who have been knocked down and need help rebuilding their lives. I can do this by strengthening my firm and improving the facilities we design and build for our current generations. I can collaborate with other professionals to prepare for and mitigate damage from future disasters to assist future generations. I can also help convince other architects, engineers and contractors to donate their talents and put the safety and success of other people first.

The health, safety and welfare of all my fellow citizens is not just an acronym (HSW) in front of each of my continuing education courses each year; it is my purpose, and the primary reason I am an Architect.