Disaster Recovery Expert Helps Prepare New Yorkers for Hurricane Season

August 5, 2013

With hurricane season upon us, Illya Azaroff needs to empty his voicemail inbox at least once a day. His expertise in disaster recovery, resilience and rebuilding, and his activity in the post-Hurricane Sandy recovery campaign have made him increasingly popular with government officials, architects and engineers.

Azaroff, an associate professor of architectural technology at New York City College of Technology (City Tech), is co-chair of the New York chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA)’s Design for Risk and Reconstruction Committee, which established the Post Sandy Initiative Task Force.

The committee and task force work with planning, engineering, housing, landscaping and other organizations involved with sustainable design on issues of building codes, the environment, transportation, infrastructure, urban planning and design, zoning, health facilities, waterfronts and other areas of concern.

“What got me interested in designing for resiliency is the combination of my degrees in geography and architecture. That background gave me the opportunity to think about the relationship of earth science to the way we build and live,” says Azaroff, who has taught at City Tech for eight years.

“Growing up in tornado-prone Nebraska helped me understand the toll of destruction caused by natural disasters,” he added.

Recently, Azaroff was invited to speak on disaster resilience and rebuilding at the AIA National Convention in Denver with urban designers Lance Brown and David Dixon on the topic Design for Risk in the 21st Century. “It’s great to be in demand,” he says, “but hard to make sure everyone’s getting the answers. I want people to be helped.”

Azaroff, a Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, resident, is helping on the local, state and federal levels. “Some communities (mayors) may want to build back affected areas the way they were before, but that’s not listening to or understanding the new paradigm,” he explains. “Their cities need to be redesigned. Resiliency requires rethinking how the power grid is distributed, for example, and how to make it safe. The goal of resilience is to get businesses back in business and people back in their homes as soon as possible, in the safest way possible after an event such as Sandy.”

Public Service Electric and Gas Company engineers at an electrical substation. Jocelyn Augustino/FEMA
Public Service Electric and Gas Company engineers at an electrical substation. Jocelyn Augustino/FEMA

In keeping with that need, Azaroff was asked to lead a task force to review the NYS 2100 Commission’s report, “Recommendations to Improve the Strength and Resilience of the Empire State’s Infrastructure,” and provide feedback to Governor Cuomo’s office. In New York City, he is part of a team that confers with the Mayor’s Office, City Council and Department of City Planning on damage assessment, identifying areas of continued risk and making recommendations about recovery, flood prevention and rebuilding.

On a recent trip to Washington, DC, Azaroff and other AIA leaders presented the “Post Sandy Initiative” report to members of Congress and met with legislators to discuss disaster recovery and resilience. The visit inspired the formation of the AIA Post-Sandy Regional Working Group, an alliance of architects and allied professionals from New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Rhode Island, who share information and advice as their states recover from the same problems.

Azaroff acquired his disaster recovery expertise from years of research and training sessions offered by California’s Emergency Management Agency (EMA) Safety Assessment Program (SAP) for Rapid Damage assessment. He was certified as a Hurriplan Trainer by Hawaii’s National Disaster Preparedness Training Center (NDPTC) and received FEMA-supported Hurriplan training for hurricane-resilient community shelter design. He has received instruction in the guiding principles for planning resilient coastal communities.

Azaroff and his colleagues have been offering local workshops about recovery and resiliency, and more are planned. “We want to make sure the city is better prepared,” he says. “Sandy’s impact on the DUMBO area of Brooklyn caused inundation and several businesses suffered a lot of damage. Red Hook was severely damaged, people displaced, businesses affected. Electricity, plumbing and heating went down when buildings were inundated, unusable or destroyed. People were without services for a long time.” Several CUNY campuses were seriously affected, including Kingsborough Community College in Sheepshead Bay, which was flooded.

At the Office of Emergency Management in Brooklyn, AIA members, including Azaroff, in partnership with Architecture for Humanity, led a damage assessment certification training course for architects on June 15. On July 9 in Newark, the Regional Working Group brought together architects (including Azaroff), designers, government officials and other stakeholders from the four-state region to review recovery progress and persistent problems, and the task force will release its recommendations by October.

On September 27 and 28, at the Center for Architecture in Manhattan, Azaroff will help lead Hurriplan workshops for students and architects, teaching them how to better prepare for hurricanes and make buildings and communities more resilient.

At City Tech, Azaroff has spearheaded formation of a faculty resiliency committee, which built a website on the College’s OpenLab communication platform enabling the College and local community to get information about Hurricane Sandy recovery: http://openlab.citytech.cuny.edu. This fall, he will bring NDPCT training to approximately 35 City Tech faculty members.

Says Azaroff, who also teaches interior design at the School of Visual Arts and is a regional director of AIA’s Young Architects Forum, “As climate change, storms and man-made disasters increase in our region, we need to adapt to these new realities. My advice to my fellow New Yorkers is to stay informed. Education is the best resilience. Everyone should know what evacuation zone they are in, what evacuation routes and destinations are designated for them, and how each person can contribute to the future of the city.”

New York City College of Technology (City Tech) of The City University of New York (CUNY) is the largest public college of technology in New York State.

Source: New York City College of Technology

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