Rebuilding after a disaster

Earlier this year, footage of tornadoes and severe storms ripping through the Southern states gripped the nation. As news reports flooded the airwaves, people soon realized these weren’t typical tornadoes. Communities were demolished and many lives were lost. Across Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee and Virginia, storms on April 27 claimed an estimated 300 lives.

Less than one month later, an EF-5 twister tore through Joplin, Mo., flattening everything in its path. Missouri already had been hit by five destructive tornadoes that rolled through St. Louis and its outlying suburbs a month earlier; the most powerful tornado had an EF-4 rating.

The aftermath of these storms left damage that hasn’t been seen since Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast in 2005. The Gulf Coast is still rebuilding, and Missouri and the Southern states have a similarly long rebuilding road ahead of them. Since disaster struck, trade professionals and manufacturers have banded together to restore the South and rebuild towns from the ground up.

Intelligent building

After the Southern tornadoes, Kristopher Nikolich, AIA, partner with the Design Initiative, Birmingham, Ala., his business partner Marshall Anderson, AIA, and Andrew Bryan, an office intern, responded to an almost immediate request from the Birmingham chapter of the American Institute of Architects for volunteers to participate in a four-hour ATC-45 training course with other architects, structural engineers and building inspectors. This training qualified them to assess damaged property and evaluate whether it was safe to return. The training courses are developed by the Applied Technology Council, Redwood City, Calif.

While inspecting structures in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Nikolich found some buildings that appeared to be unharmed but upon closer inspection discovered major structural issues that made the building uninhabitable. Other buildings suffered only superficial damages. Plenty fell in between.

The mayor’s office in Birmingham, in conjunction with AIA-Birmingham, sent a request to AIA for a Regional/Urban Design Assistance Team for rebuilding assistance for its Pratt community. R/UDAT is supported and organized by AIA and comprises individuals across the country who have expertise in planning, design and the economics of rebuilding communities afflicted by disaster. Two members from the Federal Emergency Management Agency working in Pratt have been attending the meetings so the organizations can work in tandem to ensure they are productive. The initial visit with the team leader and administrative staff was completed in August, with the design charrette a couple weeks later.

Home is where the heart is

Chris Youngs, CAPS, CGP, vice president of construction at Homewood, Ala.-based BMR Homes, focuses his work on residential projects in the Birmingham, Ala., area. He estimates about 95 percent of his current work is a direct result of the tornadoes. In fact, he’s booked for work through the first of the year. Youngs applies his Hurricane Katrina disaster-recovery and remodeling skills to the recent devastation in his area and currently is rebuilding for several dislocated families.

Finding a balance between getting residents home as soon as possible and taking enough time to thoughtfully rebuild structures is one of the most significant challenges Youngs has encountered. He stresses the importance of hiring an engineer to evaluate whether residences are structurally sound and require only cosmetic changes or necessitate total rebuilding. “Homeowners just want to get it fixed quickly. I think some of them are making bad decisions that will come back and haunt them in a couple of years when their homes start showing cracks from problems that weren’t repaired and were just covered up,” Youngs says.

In Birmingham, Nikolich and Anderson, working with other local architects, propose a design charrette to develop prototypical housing plans with affected communities. “If we’re going to rebuild in the wake of a disaster, how do we use this as an opportunity to build something that’s better?” Nikolich asks. “This is a way we can use our expertise to help improve the built environment and hopefully bring some expert advice to the process of rebuilding rather than having it being driven solely by a function of time and cost.”

Philanthropic Spirits

ProVia, a manufacturer of windows and doors in Sugarcreek, Ohio, donated materials and time to the devastation. In July, 15 employees traveled to Joplin to volunteer for one week. “It was quite a sight to see all the damage there. They said the tornado was a mile wide and ripped through town for five miles,” says Joe Klink, director of corporate relations. “Whole neighborhoods were completely blown away.”

ProVia employees devoted much of their time to cleaning up rubble from houses. “We had a Bobcat and we started hauling, raking and pulling concrete and everything out to the curb by the deadline,” Klink recalls. “When we left, it didn’t look any different than when we came. The devastation is that widespread. The difference we made was for the individuals whose property we cleared.”

Siding manufacturer and distributor Kaycan, Burlington, Vt., also donated exterior building products and tools in the Joplin area. Janis Turner, Kaycan’s U.S. marketing manager, explains that even though Kaycan does not manufacture tools, the tools are necessary for rebuilding. “Our customers need to take care of their families but also want to give back to the community,” she says. “Tools help them get their jobs back and their families fed.” The company also donated clothing, food and other critical items.

In addition, manufacturers are taking part by ensuring the built environment is more durable and energy efficient. Kim Hibbs, owner of Chesterfield, Mo.-based Hibbs Homes, has been working with the Donald family since May to rebuild their St. Louis house. Although construction is still in the early stages, the finished structure will be a more efficient and higher-quality residence than before, thanks to several suppliers, including Pevely, Mo.-based American Steel Fabrication, which is donating the steel for the house.

“There are a lot of great people in the St. Louis area who are stepping up to help us get this house rebuilt,” Hibbs says. “I’m thrilled that we’re replacing the almost 60-year-old house with one that’s so much more efficient. That’s what it’s all about — giving them a much better home.”

Community matters

Although the devastation spans many states and thousands of people, one value resounds among everyone affected: community. Kaycan’s motto is “Building Lasting Impressions.” “For the first time in several years, we’ve had the opportunity to not only build a lasting impression in vinyl siding and in communities, but we were able to have Kaycan build a lasting impression for our customers in a philanthropic role,” Turner says. “That’s really important in companies today. You need to support someone who has hit hard times.”

Klink and his colleagues were impressed at the positive attitudes in Joplin. “What really struck me is even two months after the devastation when it seems like they would start to fall into despair, I don’t remember seeing any negative attitudes,” he recalls. “They seemed glad to be alive. The community seems to be pulling together.”

Stephen A. Tybor III, vice president and business unit manager at Heartland Siding by ProVia, is cofounder and president of Eight Days of Hope and Adopt A Family, charitable organizations that ProVia has worked with to provide financial and material assistance. “It’s great when you see companies giving back to communities,” Tybor says. It’s not always about the bottom line. We live in these communities and if we don’t live there, we have cousins that live in those communities. At the end of the day, it’s about doing the right thing.”