In 2017, two Category 5 hurricanes caused catastrophic damage to the U.S. Virgin Islands. 2.7 million square feet of educational facilities spread across three islands were severely damaged and some were destroyed. Working with the U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Education and Witt O’Brien’s, disaster recovery specialists, KHA and a team of engineers created Educational Sector Industry Standards that serve as the basis for securing FEMA funding for repairs. The standards we created represent an extensive collection of available existing standards organized through an outline of appropriate and widely used educational criteria.
Unlike mainland locations, there is nowhere to go if a storm warning is issued. There is neither time nor the practical ability to get people off the islands. This means that public facilities like schools need to function as storm shelters. Unlike mainland storm shelters, the schools need to be able to function as schools and shelters simultaneously.
Many of the school facilities had not been in good condition prior to these storms due to a longstanding lack of funding for facility maintenance. Normally, FEMA only pays to repair or replace damaged building components using a strictly defined formula. In order to mitigate the risk of damage to public facilities in future storm events, and recognizing their pre-storm condition, Congress enacted special legislation in 2018 to allow a broader definition of damage than FEMA’s standard method. The standards we wrote also include guidelines for evaluating damage and define this broader method. After we prepared the standards, they were carefully reviewed by industry experts who are also leaders in the educational sector, and then formally approved by FEMA.
The Virgin Islands Daily News announced last Tuesday that “industry standards for the territory’s evolving educational landscape were approved by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.”