Wednesday, September 7, 2011

KSA on Health, Safety and Welfare:

Quakes, Snakes and Irene

After the stress of last few weeks for all of us on the East Coast, I was struck by an important thought. Even though I am an interior designer, and a George Nelson Coconut Chair excites me almost more than anything else, what I want most of the spaces where I live and work are for them to keep me safe. 

As I was huddled under my work surface during the 5.9 earthquake; the floor bouncing, light fixtures shaking, the building rumbling and “cube bling” (slang for all the quirky mementos we designers collect) falling off the shelves, I was fearful that I would be left under a mass of rubble, waiting for rescue dogs to sniff me out.  Fortunately that wasn’t necessary and I was able to text many of my friends and family that all was well.  Our building proved strong enough to withstand the earth’s torrential movement. 

Fast forward four days as we meet Hurricane Irene.  A witch by all accounts, Irene stormed through our beaches, towns and countryside showing us her wrath by tossing down trees, power lines and blowing debris.  Most of us found refuge in our homes; the places that protect us from cold, heat, snow, intruders (namely the many snakes in my neighborhood) and all sorts of environmental monsters.  For some Irene showed that her ability to toss trees was stronger than our roofs could withstand.  Fortunately most inhabitants weren’t injured, but the storm demonstrated that our homes aren’t as strong as they should be.

The people who design and build our structures, including interior designers, are required to be knowledgeable about construction materials and techniques that make built environments reasonably safe from whatever the earth and Mother Nature throw at us.  Not only does the structure have to withstand the stresses of the environment, but the interior design must also provide safety for those living inside; no obstacles blocking our exit routes, no furniture falling on us, no materials that can easily become ablaze. 

Natural disasters offer us the opportunity to review and to assess, and our wrecked homes and buildings become the research labs of structural engineers, designers and code officials.  The experiences of this past week will be used to learn how to make the built environment more safe, so that maybe our new roofs can withstand the weight of falling trees and our spaces can endure quakes, snakes and Irene. 

Beth Dickerson, CID, ASID, LEED AP

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