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Published: April 23, 2014
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Exhibition Explores Natural Hazard Risks and Mitigation Strategies

Photo: New Orleans, Louisiana, 2005. Flood waters in New Orleans, located below sea level, were slow to dissipate after levees failed during Hurricane Katrina, causing billions in damages. Courtesy NOAA Photo Library, National Weather Service Collection, Lieut. Commander Mike Moran, NOAA Corps, NMAO/AOC
New Orleans, Louisiana, 2005. Flood waters in New Orleans, located below sea level, were slow to dissipate after levees failed during Hurricane Katrina, causing billions in damages. Courtesy NOAA Photo Library, National Weather Service Collection, Lieut. Commander Mike Moran, NOAA Corps, NMAO/AOC.

WASHINGTON, D.C.—From earthquakes and hurricanes to flooding and rising sea levels, natural disasters can strike anywhere and at any time. No region of the country is immune from the impacts and rising costs of disaster damage. In light of this stark reality, the National Building Museum presents a multimedia exhibition titled Designing for Disaster, a call-to-action for citizen preparedness—from design professionals and local decision-makers to homeowners and school kids. The exhibition explores strategies local leaders are currently pursuing to reduce their risks and build more disaster-resilient communities. The exhibition will open May 11, 2014 and remain on view through August 2, 2015.

Visitors to Designing for Disaster will explore new approaches in design and engineering to protect life and property against a range of natural hazards. The exhibition will be organized by the destructive forces associated with each of the elements: Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. Artifacts from past disasters, such as a door marked after Hurricane Katrina, singed opera glasses from the Waldo Canyon wildfire, and stone fragments from the earthquake-damaged National Cathedral, express the destructive power of nature.

Not to be missed:

  • A partially deconstructed FEMA-specified “safe room”—one of the few defenses against a tornado or violent storm—will illustrate how it is built to withstand tornado-force winds and flying debris
  • A “wall of wind” (modeled on Florida International University’s wind testing facility) invites visitors to test various roof shapes against simulated hurricane-force winds to see which shape performs best
  • A button-activated set of moving stairs that show how the expansion joints within the seating bowl at the University of California, Berkeley’s Memorial Stadium would actually perform in the event of an earthquake

Case studies will explore a range of flexible design and planning schemes, public policies, and new forecasting technologies as ways to reduce risks before the next disaster. The scale is as varied as the solutions, from engineering advancements and seismic retrofits of esteemed historic buildings (University of California, Berkeley’s Memorial Stadium) and bridges (Eastern Span of the Oakland-San Francisco Bay Bridge) to urgent, hands-on lessons, through models, animated drawings, and interactive displays.

Multimedia components include expert profiles: new interviews with industry leaders, such as Richard Knabb, director of the National Hurricane Center and Kit Miyamoto, CEO, Miyamoto International and California Seismic Safety Commissioner; a testing video from the Insurance Industry for Business & Home Safety Research Center in Richburg, South Carolina, where experts test the effect of gale-force winds on residential structures; a recording from the 1989 MLB World Series, interrupted by an earthquake; and a projection table exploring the 2010 Fourmile Canyon fire in Colorado. Custom interactives will allow visitors to test their disaster preparedness by choosing the best recourse in disaster scenarios.

The exhibition closes with images and stories of everyday people who have taken steps both large and small to safeguard their homes and families. Visitors will be challenged to take similar actions. Links to online resources, an ongoing exhibition blog, and a blog/social media campaign called #MitigationNation will help visitors get started.

Members of the press are invited to preview the exhibition before the public opening, on Thursday, May 8, 10 am–Noon. Register here or RSVP to Emma Filar, efilar@nbm.org, 202.272.2448, ext. 3458.

Hi-res images with captions and credits are available here.

The National Building Museum and its partners have planned a full slate of public programming to complement the exhibition. Topics include the effects of hurricanes in urban areas; the Rebuild by Design project that hopes to revitalize the region affected by Hurricane Sandy; the rising waters of the Chesapeake Bay; the importance of resilient landscapes; and more. Check website for a full list of programs, descriptions, and speakers. Press passes available.

Admission to Museum exhibitions is $8 for adults, $5 for youth, students, and seniors, and free for National Building Museum members and children under three. Visit www.nbm.org to purchase tickets online.

Designing for Disaster is generously supported by Lafarge North America; The Home Depot Foundation; American Red Cross; Andersen Corporation; The Nature Conservancy; AECOM; Center for Disaster Philanthropy; National Endowment for the Arts; ASSA ABLOY; Construction Specialties, Inc.; National Fire Protection Association; United Technologies Corporation; Federal Emergency Management Agency; Kingdom of the Netherlands; Association of State Floodplain Managers and the Association of State Floodplain Managers Foundation; Florida International University; Nixon Peabody LLP; Rebuild by Design; RenaissanceRe Risk Sciences Foundation; Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP; Arup; and URS Corporation.

Science Channel is our exclusive Television Media Sponsor, and the Washington Post is a media partner.

The National Building Museum is America’s leading cultural institution dedicated to advancing the quality of the built environment by educating people about its impact on their lives. Through its exhibitions, educational programs, online content, and publications, the Museum has become a vital forum for the exchange of ideas and information about the world we build for ourselves. Public inquiries: 202.272.2448 or visit www.nbm.org. Connect with us on Twitter: @BuildingMuseum and Facebook.

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