During a disaster, whether natural or man-made, state and local governments may not have the resources to respond adequately to the challenges confronting them. If formally requested by government officials, Iowa’s architects are willing, as a civic gesture, to volunteer their time to assist emergency management officials in assessment and recovery efforts from tornadoes, floods and other catastrophes.
Recognizing the need for their expertise and services during major disasters, the American Institute of Architects’ Iowa chapter (AIA Iowa), representing nearly 900 members statewide, formed the Disaster Assistance Committee in 2008. The committee enlisted and, with the help of emergency management experts, trained 60 Iowa architects as volunteers to provide uncompensated assistance with flood damage assessments during the floods of 2008.
Due to a growing concern for potential liability that could arise from such voluntary assistance, architects have since become reluctant to provide similar assistance during other disasters unless reasonable protection from liability is provided.
Currently, 25 states have a “good Samaritan law” for architects and engineers, including our Midwest neighbors of Illinois, Missouri, Kansas and North Dakota. However, Iowa law does not ensure immunity from liability for volunteer services during a declared state of emergency.
During disaster situations, a licensed architect could be exposed to liability even though acting responsibly and in good faith to preserve the safety of a community. Although Iowa has statutes that protect certain volunteers from liability during an emergency, it is questionable whether those statutes would adequately shield an uncompensated architect from liability while assisting emergency management officials during a crisis. This ambiguity needs to be removed by passing good Samaritan legislation in Iowa.
There is precedent in the Iowa Code for such protection of citizens, including those providing emergency assistance relating to accidents, assisting during a public health disaster and assisting victims during a crime. Others Iowa laws protect nonprofits and school employees.
Through current study bills, AIA Iowa has proposed a specific “good Samaritan law” for Iowa that is in the public interest and only applies:
• During a disaster declared by the governor.
• During the 30-day period of a disaster declaration.
• When requested by a national, state or local authority acting in an official capacity.
• To architects and engineers licensed in Iowa.
• When services are volunteered without compensation (other than expense reimbursement).
Every Iowan has a risk of suffering through a disaster. Having trained volunteers providing immediate help to fellow Iowans during these times of crisis can frequently make the difference between quick recovery and harmful delay.
Bill Dikis is the Iowa Government Affairs Committee chair for the American Institute of Architects’ Iowa chapter