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Balcony overlooking walkway in courtyard. Stone steps and planters surrounded by buildings with red overhanging canopies

Designing for a Disaster: Resiliency in a Changing Climate

Michael Huffstetler

We only learn the true impact of an environmental disaster when we watch devastated communities recover. Whether it’s an entire city under water or thousands of acres of land on fire, affected communities need community planning, housing, infrastructure, and health services. While FEMA provides those services, the National Disaster Recovery Framework makes clear that pre-disaster recovery planning can potentially mitigate some of the more devastating effects of an environmental disaster. It’s here that we can provide integrated solutions to the most complex emergency response and disaster preparedness needs in partnership with FEMA.

Aerial view of U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Education campus plan. Illuminated Sprauve sign on front left building

Our Approach

91Ʋ is guided by an ecological and systems-based approach with resiliency at its core.

While our expertise in sustainability aims to stop disasters before they start – by slowing the progress of the climate change that exacerbates the frequency and intensity of disasters – our inclusive, consensus-based decision-making process addresses the complex environmental, social, economic, and technological challenges that communities experience today.

By connecting interrelated design disciplines and planning expertise, we can holistically address diverse needs such as housing, infrastructure, community health, and environmental justice, using innovative strategies across all systems.

A Case Study

Covering more than 2.7 million SF of educational space in 45 facilities across St. Croix, St. John, and St. Thomas, the Virgin Islands Department of Education has a deep portfolio of rapidly deteriorating schools.

Bringing a holistic look at education within the context of culture, our educational facilities master plan sets a new direction for education in the U.S. Virgin Islands while responding to environmental and community needs. In addition to the tropical climate, many VIDE buildings suffered significant damage by Category 5 hurricanes, including Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria in 2017. Involving more than 45 stakeholders in the planning process (government officials, educational leaders, teachers, students, and industry partners), a comprehensive set of guiding principles established four primary components of the master plan: spatial agility, school safety, sustainability, and community partnership.

The recently completed VIDE Master Plan will provide modern learning environments through modernizations and new construction across the USVI. It outlines an approach to implement the community’s vision of what schools should be and provides a framework for decision-making to proceed in a fair and equitable manner.

Easing the Burden

While we are entirely committed to addressing the climate change that underlies many of our most catastrophic environmental disasters, our strength in providing resilient, community-focused designs is a crucial stopgap in places such as the Virgin Islands, where well-designed solutions can help lessen the burden on communities after a disaster.

To learn more, download our FEMA Services Fact Sheet here.

Michael Huffstetler
Connect with me to start a conversation ➔ Michael Huffstetler, Federal Programs Leader


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