National Building Museum’s Designing for Disaster exhibition

National Building Museum
May 11, 2014 – September 13, 2015 (new extended date!)

WildfireFrom earthquakes and hurricanes to wildfires and flooding, natural disasters can strike anywhere and at any time, costing millions of dollars of property loss and human suffering.

In light of this reality, the National Fire Protection Association has co-sponsored the National Building Museum’s multi-media exhibition titled, Designing for Disaster, that will focus on how to reduce the impact of natural disasters. The exhibit is a call-to-action for citizen preparedness—from design professionals and local decision-makers to homeowners and school kids—investigating how and where to build communities that are safer and more disaster-resilient.

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.

Projects 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  
Firewise from the Start
Wildfire gallery
Wildfire artifacts

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.

What you’ll find at the exhibit
Visitors to Designing for Disaster will be able to explore the tools available to help them evaluate and mitigate their own risks, and they will learn how they can contribute to disaster planning efforts in their own community. At the broadest level, the exhibition will promote the idea that we as individual citizens and as interest groups have an active role to play in protecting our communities, ourselves and our property.

Mitigation resources
Part of the Designing for Disaster exhibit website includes a page with great resources that can help you learn how to take steps in your own home and community to prepare for disasters, remain safe, and prevent damage. For more resources, articles, and mitigation stories check out the Museum's Designing for Disaster blog MitigationNation.

Find out more
Check out the Designing for Disaster blog at MitigationNation. Additional information about the National Building Museum’s Designing for Disaster exhibition can be found on their website.

Learn more about NFPA’s wildland fire preparedness and safety efforts including its Firewise Communities Program and Fire Adapted Communities initiative.