Volunteer Engineers Working To Help Communities Recover

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Release date: 
October 21, 1999
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RALEIGH, N.C. -- A group of North Carolina professional engineers volunteered to conduct free assessments of flood-damaged properties for local communities who are recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Floyd.

"The communities couldn't afford consultants," said John Gerber, an engineer with the National Flood Insurance Program. "Yet they've got to know if their properties can be restored to meet the local building code. These experts-to-go really filled the bill and a pressing need," he said. "The communities can't believe their good fortune."

The volunteer engineers look for and tag buildings that sustained 'substantial damage,' defined as dollar damage that exceeds 50 percent of its pre-flood value. Communities use the assessments to determine whether a building can be repaired or rebuilt at its original location; flood regulations require substantially damaged structures to be elevated or rebuilt outside of the flood zone. In the aftermath of Floyd, communities throughout Eastern North Carolina needed to make thousands of such determinations, Gerber said.

The engineers, who are all members of the Professional Engineers of North Carolina, received special training earlier this month to help them assess the homes. Since then, more than 100 engineers have conducted thousands of assessments, and expect to finish all the required assessments by the end of this week (Oct. 23).

"We've all seen the magnitude of damage caused by Floyd," Gerber said. "The engineers help quantify that damage. But you can't put a price tag on their caring spirit." Gerber estimated the private-sector value of their work as worth more than $100,000.

The volunteer engineers often work 12-hour days, in areas rife with snakes and vermin. While the workers always try to exercise caution, they risk danger every time they venture near floodwaters or enter a flooded building. They assess hurricane damage down east during the day, staying in campers and old hunting lodges or staying with family or with friends of friends at night.

The engineers' mission stands apart from the damage assessments carried out by inspectors working in those same conditions for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). FEMA inspectors verify the losses of individual applicants to determine eligibility for state and federal assistance programs.

"The engineers play a vital role in helping whole communities pull together," said Todd Davison, FEMA deputy federal coordinating officer for the joint state and federal disaster recovery effort. "Recovery remains a long and hard process, but the engineers just upped the pace."

The engineering group is not the only professional group that is helping flooded North Carolina communities, however. Volunteers from the American Institute of Architects also have assisted Pitt County, and the towns of Nashville and Rocky Mount with safety inspections, and condemnation and 'substantial damage' determinations.

Last Updated: 
July 16, 2012 - 18:46
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