Disaster Recovery Reform Act Part 2 – Wisconsin

Meet Stacey Zwetter Keller
AIA Wisconsin’s Disaster Assessment Program Coordinator

Not only is Stacey a Senior Project Architect at Mead & Hunt, Inc. in Middleton, WI, but she is visible in the profession and the community through her service as the AIA North Central Region Young Architect Regional Director, past president of AIA Southwest Wisconsin, and instrumental in the development and implementation of the Leadership Institute Program for AIA Wisconsin.  Most recently, she has invested time into AIA South Dakota by moderating a session at the AIA SD annual convention and hosting the North Central Region’s Emerging Professionals Summit in Sioux Falls this past year.  Currently, she has initiated and is building a Disaster Assessment Program for the first time to AIA Wisconsin, providing rapid damage assessments following natural and man-made disasters, which has been activated and implemented into action during the flooding in Wisconsin last month.

The following is a publication that describes the importance of this programming being developed by states and was written by Stacey and published in conjunction with AIA Wisconsin’s implementation of their Disaster Assessment Program.  Wisconsin’s current program will help inform AIA SD in creating protocols for disaster assistance program.  Enjoy!

(The following article is being re-published with permission from Stacey Zwetter Keller.)

Advocacy: Persistence Pays Dividends
By: Stacey Z. Keller, AIA

In times of disaster, local government entities need to accurately evaluate levels of damage to structures. According to Wisconsin Emergency Management (WEM), they, to date, have been forced to rely on untrained, often emotionally charged, self-evaluations. When this information transfers to the state and national levels, any inaccuracies slow down the process for emergency response declarations.

Architects, on the other hand, are uniquely qualified to rapidly analyze structures and provide damage assessments that local governments can use to determine levels of disaster. Layered with a one-day Safety Assessment Program (SAP) training, our education and experience have trained us to differentiate surface damage and structural failures. We can serve as a conduit between local and state agencies, assisting with emergency declarations and, most important, helping get residents back into their homes.

This year, AIA Wisconsin entered into its first-ever Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) agreement to formally establish a relationship with the State of Wisconsin Emergency Management (WEM) Department, organized under the Wisconsin Army National Guard. This agreement states that WEM and AIA WI will mutually develop the Wisconsin Disaster Assessment program and procedures, and call on, coordinate, and deploy volunteers to assess disaster-related damage to structures.

As a founding co-chair of the AIA WI Disaster Preparedness Committee, I can tell you that reaching this agreement has been no small feat. Three years in the making, it started merely as a discussion between two members with knowledge and experience in disaster recovery and a sense of urgent duty that Wisconsin needed a plan before the next major event occurred. Janine Glaeser, AIA, and I started a plan of action, but we did not need to develop our program from scratch. There are innumerable resources and so many people with a genuine desire to spread this knowledge nationwide. I was originally trained in disaster safety assessments in Kansas, so we started by tapping AIA Kansas as a primary resource and specifically Stan Peterson, FAIA who started their program more than twenty years ago.

Our first step was to determine whether Wisconsin had a Good Samaritan law, since this would be required for our advocacy to be a legally safe endeavor for our member-volunteers. AIA has been instrumental in achieving Good Samaritan legislation and MOUs in 34 states and counting.

Reaching out to our AIA WI staff and legal counsel, we discovered there is a Wisconsin liability exemption for volunteers providing service, in good faith, during times of disaster and states of emergency. With the legal piece out of the way, we engaged in a two-fold process: promoting this work and educating our AIA leadership and members on the one hand, while reaching out to build relationships with the WEM leadership.

What Janine and I found almost uncanny as we initiated discussions with WEM is that they also over the last several years had been trying to figure out a better way to perform damage assessments. Janine and I brought resources, trainings, and examples to our discussions and set the stage for WEM leadership to see that we, the architects, were THE experts they wanted to utilize.

In July 2014, we hosted both AIA WI members and WEM leadership at our first Cal OES Training in Wisconsin. We demonstrated the validity of the program and the value of architects to the process to the more than 40 people in attendance. This opened an opportunity to develop a formalized committee with AIA WI and show WEM the necessary commitment to develop the MOU. We continued to meet over the next two years to work on the expectations of the MOU, as well as the disaster management plan and assessment procedures.

After several reviews by both parties and each of our legal counsels, the MOU was finalized and signed. Next we worked to establish procedures to follow in the event of a disaster and created our first formal draft of the Disaster Safety Assessment Program. We then hosted a second training that incorporated the specific Wisconsin procedures. Our next steps in this ongoing process are to refine the procedures, promote the program and services to the Regional Emergency Coordinators and local entities with WEM, and keep building our AIA WI membership awareness.

This is advocacy without lobbying—true volunteerism—and proves the value of architects to the public. In this era, we Emerging Professionals have first-hand experience with resilience—in adapting to changes in both the economy and our careers. We can take the opportunity to be at the forefront of resilience in our communities as well—through this type of state-level recovery program. So use the resources, including the AIA National Disaster Assistance Committee and the many people who would gratefully share their time and knowledge to help. It can take time, but we Emerging Professionals have a passion for making our world a better place: spark awareness, get engaged, and advocate.


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