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Rebuilding the Gulf Coast

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I have been traveling for the last month - visiting family in Chicago. I drove through Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, Nebraska, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, Iowa and Illinois on my path to and from La Quinta California to Waukegan Illinois. 
Each day the news coming from the Gulf became more and more devastating. There is an effort of neighbor helping heighbor when the families are able to leave the area and find temporary housing with families and with coordinated efforts of the religious community across the nation.
Our professional efforts will be needed to resist nature using many of the latest and ecconomic materials that can provide solutions for housing on a broad basis. My concern is that this will become a "market" that the public believes is created to line our pockets and as with those who take advantage of the situation, will harm our profession when our efforts are to help.
Do we consider the necessity of recreating "tracts" or do we provide individual design for the homeowner's who want to rebuild once the elevation issues and flood control concerns are engineered.

I believe that we, as a professional community, can organize our efforts all across the United States to help rebuild these three states. The labor force is out there and we should be able to organize a means of creating housing that will be designed to resist greater forces using new technology and materials and do so at a more ecconomical cost. Rather than greater cost due to demand, we should be expecting that material costs can be reduced by increasing the demand and eliminating the storage or warehousing costs. 

I'm not sure if I am being clear on this, but I would think that quantity equates to greater purchasing power. When I was in business some twenty seven years ago, we had lower prices on containers for customers who purchased greater quantities. This does not mean that developers in a time of crisis should be able to maximize profits at the expense of the public, but that the public should be the recipients of our good well by creating a design and construction principle that will help reduce the cost of design and lower the cost of materials. Labor is competitive; some suggested that to help lower the cost, the Federal Government can temporarily eliminate the Davis Bacon Act - however, I understand the Union arguments that to do so may effect the quality of construction.

Is this a problem that we should be discussing in order to help building officials and municipalities pass along the help to the homeowners who need to rebuild.

A few months ago the Federal Government and the President signed a law into place that essentially eliminates the ability of private citzens to file bankruptsy. Will the government repeal this law when the thousands of homeowners can not afford to rebuild. Remember that flood insurance is only available to those who have a mortgage. If you own your own home, you can not obtain flood insurance in this region. I'm not sure if this is typical across the nation, but I've heard authorities discuss this in the media.

I feel that we need to do something more than send money, blood, food or temporary housing - the structural engineering community needs to look past the short term and address the challenge to rebuild the one structure that represents more than 90% of all structures - residential homes. 

I've been off the list for nearly a month because of my travels back east. I don't know if this has been discussed but if anyone is interested in discussing this with me privately and in cooperation with material manufactures of proprietary products that can be used to ecconomically rebuild a stronger and better performing home, we may be able to set a new standard for the future.

My heart goes out to those who have lost everything; and living in California I feel that we are vulnerable from a high risk of natural disaster. What can we do, using our professional talents to help without seemingly taking advantage of the situation? I don't doubt that there are enough large firms to rebuild commercial and essential facilities. Homes are sacred to all of us - when we lose a home or can no longer feel safe within our homes then we feel violated and probably at the lowest level of our lives. Our homes are much more than a roof over our heads, they are are safe haven and these people deserve to feel safe again.

Dennis S. Wish, PE
California Professional Engineer
Structural Engineering Consultant

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