When massive tornados did widespread damage in Alabama in 2011, more than 200 architects and engineers went right to work – putting in more than 1,300 pro-bono hours inspecting thousands of buildings.
And since Alabama had a Good Samaritan Law in place to protect them from frivolous lawsuits, they did it without concern of litigation.
If Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald (D-Voorhees) has his way, the same protection will soon be in place for future natural disasters in New Jersey.
As the one-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy looms, Greenwald today again called for Good Samaritan legislation that would protect licensed architects and engineers.
Greenwald is looking to refocus attention to the bill, which was first introduced in the storm's wake last January. He said he hopes the bill will be taken up during the upcoming lame-duck legislative session.
Under the bill, licensed architects and professional engineers seeking immunity from liability must volunteer without pay at the scene of a declared emergency at the request of federal, state or local authorities for up to 90 days following the emergency. That period can be extended through a gubernatorial executive order.
"When disasters strike, we need all the help we can get," Greenwald said. "We could remove barriers that keep needed professional volunteers on the sidelines in times of crisis like this."
Though the bill does state that architects and engineers would still be liable for an act, error or omission that is "wanton, willful or grossly negligent," Greenwald said it provides reasonable protection against "frivolous lawsuits."
In the immediate aftermath of a storm, Greenwald said, architects and engineers have an important set of skills they can bring to the table.
"In major natural disasters across the country, safety inspections to damaged properties are a critical part of protecting the community and saving lives," Greenwald said. "That's where architects and engineers can jump immediately to help and become a significant part of that solution."
Jack Purvis, president of the American Institute of Architects' New Jersey chapter, said today that licensed architects are ready and willing to help out during the next disaster, but need the authority to do so.
"With this bill, we will be able to assist towns and other governmental agencies by quickly responding with boots on the ground to assess the viability and safety of all types of structures," Purvis said. "This quick assessment is essential in the recovery (from) a disaster."
Bob Thiel, president of the New Jersey Society of Professional Engineers, added that when disasters strike, any professional capable of offering help should be allowed to do so.