Resilient Oklahoma & Rebuild Moore

Roadside Cornfield. Edmond, Oklahoma.
Roadside Cornfield. Edmond, Oklahoma.

The destructive series of tornadoes that struck the city of Moore, Oklahoma and adjacent areas in 2013 brought to attention many of the region's vulnerabilities. Over 10,000 homes were damaged and more than 50 people lost their lives, in part due to inadequate preparation measures.  Helping to address these needs, our Resilient Oklahoma program continues to move forward as Design Fellow Pearl Chen works with disaster management experts to support Oklahoma Emergency Management and FEMA in their Safe Schools 101 initiative. 

With your and our partners' support, we're working to develop workshops and training programs that will work to lower the risk of disaster from future inevitable storms. We are grateful for every penny donated to help us get this program off the ground!

Please read an update from Pearl below for more information about the work we're doing there.  We are closing this page on GlobalGiving, but our work will continue in Oklahoma. Stay tuned with us on our blog for future updates.

We hope you keep in touch with us at Architecture for Humanity as we continue to work at a local level to create, educate and promote effective building design that strengthens communities.  Thank you for being a part of our team!



Update from the Field

You can be sure to find a deeply ingrained work ethic in a state whose motto is “Labor omnia vincit” – Labor conquers all things. Oklahoma is situated within an area of the Great Plains known colloquially as Tornado Alley, a region spanning from South Dakota to Central Texas with a disproportionately high frequency of tornadoes. In the face of the material and social struggles that emerge from the aftermath of severe natural disasters, the motto “Labor conquers all things,” begins to take on the form of a few important questions about what constitutes ‘Resilience’—questions we must continue to ask ourselves.

What kind of labor, or more simply put, hard work, needs to be undertaken in order to reduce risk and strengthen the communities that will inevitably bear the future storm? And, for any statement on ‘conquering’ to be valuable, the necessary question remains: What are the challenges we must collectively overcome?

Currently, as a Design Fellow in Oklahoma under the leadership of Architecture for Humanity, I am supporting Oklahoma Emergency Management and FEMA in their Safe Schools 101 initiative. This project was born out of the 2013 tornado that struck the city of Moore and adjacent areas. The EF5 tornado claimed the lives of many residents, seven of whom were third grade students taking shelter in a school hallway annex when a non-reinforced building wall within collapsed onto them. The purpose of Safe Schools 101 is to prevent, through risk analysis and information sharing, the future failure of school buildings that compromise the life-safety of students during violent storms.


Safe Schools 101: A Brief Overview

The state-sponsored program educates professionals in a 2-day workshop on components of storm hazards, risk assessment, and disaster mitigation. At the end of the training, students are assigned in groups to actual schools that have requested safety assessments. The site and building evaluation is guided by blueprints, digital assessment tools, and a detailed scoring sheet designed by Oklahoma Emergency Management to quantify and compare the safety of the school’s main evacuation areas. All of the information gathered is then compiled into a report letter to the school district explaining in detail the team’s findings and related recommendations. Schools are able to use this information to create more informed emergency plans and decide how to develop structurally. Solutions include installing storm shutters, constructing FEMA-standard safe rooms, or retrofitting entire school complexes.

Currently, I am working with Safe Schools 101 focused on content development for their training workshops. Based on my own observations and the feedback of previous students, the existing curriculum requires attention to consistency and clarity in its delivery to its audience. Improving the curriculum is important as ever, as cities across the Midwest have expressed interest in adopting the Safe Schools 101 program into their own state. I have been in regular contact with individuals in other related professions that can contribute meaningfully in what is oftentimes a complex organizational process. My hope is that this newly improved-upon material can serve as a solid foundation for Safe Schools 101 as they increase local training and assessment capacity, and potentially branch out nationwide through other innovative platforms.

I believe the next few months here will provide opportunities for deeper engagement with my earlier questions about the kind of work that needs to be done, and the challenges we must identify and overcome in our pursuit of a more resilient Oklahoma.


*Photo: Safe Schools 101 Site Assessment (Here is a 1937 boiler room under a school building being considered for a safe room retrofit). Tulsa, Oklahoma. 



Meet Design Fellow, Pearl Chen

Pearl Grace is originally from Austin, Texas and is currently our Design Fellow focusing on Disaster Preparedness Planning & Resiliency for the Oklahoma City Region. Her work has previously dealt with vulnerable populations both in the US and abroad. Her international work has been dedicated to improving the quality of life in informal settlements by addressing critical needs related to public and environmental health, and community infrastructure. Back in Austin, she worked to promote educational equity within East Austin housing project developments. Pearl has an academic background in Geography, Architectural Studies, and Urban Planning.

Safe Schools 101 Site Assessment in Tulsa, OK
Safe Schools 101 Site Assessment in Tulsa, OK


Tommy Stewart, long-time collaborator with Architecture for Humanity, attended the last of five training sessions for the Oklahoma Safe Schools 101 program, held March 25 to 28 with a site assessment training exercise on Saturday, March 29.   Approximately 150 participants took advantage of this pilot program designed to train architects, engineers, and related professionals to assess school buildings for refuge inventory and planning. 

The program was developed by the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management (OEM) in cooperation with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to create an extensive network of trained individuals to assess every public school building in the state of Oklahoma and to identify the best areas of refuge in case of tornadoes and high wind events.

Tommy describes his experience after the training,

“I was privileged to attend this interesting program and participate in an assessment training exercise at Norman High School.  Having been involved in storm damage assessments, the back side of the storm so to speak, this proactive review provided a different way to think about the affects of tornadoes. Rather than what happened, we were taught to think about what could happen; where the safest place to be is and in some cases how long you might have to get there.”

This program will help the State of Oklahoma identify those existing places to best protect one of most valuable assets - our children while they are at school.


Photo by Tommy Stewart, June 2013
Photo by Tommy Stewart, June 2013

Architecture for Humanity is excited to announce a partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)'s National Disaster Recovery Support (NDRS) team, the state of Oklahoma's Office of Emergency Management (OK OEM) and the City of Moore to collaborate in long term reconstruction efforts in the State.

The State of Oklahoma and NDRS invited Architecture for Humanity to participate in the Safe Schools 101 program, working to empower communities with the necessary tools to manage their own recovery. The program seeks to train architects and engineers in assessing school buildings to ensure that their structures include their best available areas of refuge. They will look at opportunities for hardening those areas with the ultimate goal of ensuring they areFEMA 361 / ICC500 compliant safe room designs and construction throughout the state. FEMA team members from various regions of the country have already shown interest in expandingSafe Schools 101program to other states. Sign up for school assessment training here.

This partnership will enable us to support this Safe School 101 initiative, the City of Moore's recovery efforts, and work on statewide resilience initiatives. Architecture for Humanity will provide two design fellow to work with FEMA's Recovery Office in Oklahoma City, to work collaboratively and assist survivors in developing resilient strategies for community planning and home building within these neighborhoods. The design fellow will offer recovery agencies with technical expertise to assist communities and promote regional resilience against future threats.

We greatly look forward to our collaboration and making a difference in Oklahoma!

Do your part!

Apply to be an Oklahoma design fellow and make a difference in people's lives. Come join our team! Applications reviewed on a rolling basis.

About the position:
Reporting to the Program Manager, the Design Fellow will work with local rebuilding organizations and travel to communities to engage community residents in public workshops. Through engaging with communities, we will work together to identify preparedness needs, available resources, and work to tailor community-specific solutions in vulnerable cities across Oklahoma.

Architecture for Humanity has been the leading nonprofit in providing designing solutions to post-disaster areas on a global scale. These positions present an opportunity to commit to making a positive impact in Oklahoma through the power of design. There is successful growth potential for candidates who are ambitious, entrepreneurial, intrepid and committed.

We look forward to hearing from you!


While it has been 5 months since the tornadoes hit the Oklahoma region in May, communities are still recovering. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency numbers, an estimated 1,300 homes and two schools were destroyed by the storm, and the community is still struggling to get back on their feet. Students continue to attend school at temporary locations, and residents are just now obtaining building permits to begin their rebuilding efforts.

Veteran Architecture for Humanity volunteer, Tommy Stewart, AIA, AICP, LEED, has been on the ground meeting with those involved with the ongoing recovery efforts since May. In Oklahoma, he has been meeting with various local stakeholders in search for ways in which Architecture for Humanity can help the community rebuild resiliently against future storms.

Tommy has been meeting with local long-term reconstruction committees and has participated in the local dialogue to assess unmet needs and build partnerships. In moving our Resilient Oklahoma program forward, he was joined by studio director, Eric Cesal in mid-September, to meet with key organizations in the area. Through meeting these organizations, we look forward to further cultivating partnerships and to continue expanding the program's reach.


Resilient Oklahoma

As announced in August, our Resilient Oklahoma Program will help us work with communities to implement a regional disaster resiliency plan in cities across Oklahoma, particularly in vulnerable communities. To begin, we are moving forward with plans to embed our design fellows deeply within these communities. In recent conversations with the City of Moore and FEMA, Architecture for Humanity is in conversation to have one design fellow embedded in each of these two parties, to maximize the program's impact. Each of these design fellows will be charged with assisting survivors in developing resilient strategies for community planning and home building.


Interested in Getting Involved?

We are still on the search for design fellows. If you are a licensed architect, planner or engineer enthused in promoting resiliency in affected communities throughout Oklahoma, we'd love to hear from you!


In the weeks after a series of destructive and deadly tornadoes swept through central Oklahoma, Architecture for Humanity has been assisting communities, meeting rebuilding authorities, and assessing still-emerging needs and long term priorities for the stricken towns.

Background & Current Status

Between May 18 and June 2, a series of tornadoes touched down in the Oklahoma City metro area, killing more than 50, injuring hundreds and damaging or destroying over 10,000 homes. The most well known area hit was the city of Moore, but several other Oklahoma City suburbs were hit hard as well.

As of this posting, the affected area is continuing with debris removal, mostly from residential neighborhoods. Contractors and city crews will continue debris removal through July and into August. Much of this work has been supported by federal and state emergency funding.

In Person, On the Ground

Veteran Architecture for Humanity volunteer Tommy Stewart, AIA, AICP, LEED, has been on the ground since immediately following the storms, meeting with organizations and individuals involved with the ongoing recovery efforts and assisting with post disaster damage assessments for homeowners.

Tommy has also been liaising with the Long Term Recovery Committee For the May 18-June 2, 2013, Disaster, which is made up of organizations including FEMA, the AARP, City and State officials, various church organizations and nonprofit disaster recovery organizations. The committee acknowledges that its members are still involved with immediate family and individual needs, and that the conversion to long term reconstruction is still weeks away.

Diedre Edrey, Director of the Marketing and Economic Development Department of Moore, tells us that they too have been consumed with the day to day needs of their community, and are just now beginning to think about long term recovery. The city has nevertheless identified several public facilities that will not be covered by insurance, FEMA, or other public funds.

These unaided facilities stand out as candidates for support. Some coordination and discussion remains to determine the city’s specific long-term redevelopment priorities, and how we can most effectively engage them.

Recovery on track

As with any major disaster, a period of several weeks to several months must be committed to the initial recovery phase -clearing debris, ensuring personal safety and comfort, identifying temporary school facilities, and assessing long term needs and priorities.

The pace of recovery in Oklahoma may be aggravating, but is consistent with post-disaster efforts of similar size and severity.

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Project Leader

Yuko Okamura

San Francisco, California United States

Where is this project located?

Map of Resilient Oklahoma & Rebuild Moore