HVACR organizations work towards relief efforts.

Finding topics for these monthly editorials is not always easy, which is why I often write about trade shows or lately, the upcoming change in the federal seasonal energy-efficiency rating.

Newspapers or general-interest magazines can always find something to write about, from world events to politics. And while some trade-magazine editors use their columns to write about such topics, I've always avoided it. In this era of 24-hour TV and Internet news, there are plenty of other sources for that type of information. Of course, if it's directly relevant to HVAC and sheet metal contractors, such as gasoline and steel prices, then we'll cover it.

But the devastation of Hurricane Katrina makes all these other issues seem superficial. As I write this in early September, experts are saying the flood that resulted when the levees around New Orleans broke may have killed hundreds. Thousands more are being evacuated to makeshift shelters across the country.

As the federal government readies its response to the crisis, as well as local and state officials throughout the United States, I wondered what sheet metal and HVAC organizations and companies were doing to help.

A quick search of the Internet proved many of them are offering assistance and encouraging others to do the same, which I was glad to see.

Working together

On its Web site, www.ashrae.org, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers is encouraging members to donate to the American Red Cross or contact the Federal Emergency Management Agency to learn what help is needed.

A message on ASHRAE's Web site says: "After the shock has subsided and efforts to rebuild begin, this tragedy will bring the engineering community closer than ever, to work together to rebuild what has been destroyed and to continue to work toward an ever-improving quality of life."

The regional ASHRAE office that includes the affected Gulf Coast areas also has a Web site, www.ashrae region7.org/jobs.htm, where other members can post job openings, offer space for engineers to reassemble destroyed offices or donate supplies.

The society is also offering members whose ASHRAE handbooks were destroyed free replacements.

In an open letter on www.acca.org, Paul Stalknecht, president and CEO of the Air Conditioning Contractors of America, said his group had donated to the Red Cross and was urging individual members to do the same. Echoing the calls of federal and local officials, Stalknecht stressed that more than supplies, hurricane survivors needed cash right now.

"For many years, I had the privilege of serving on the board of a national charitable organization that distributed donated goods to needy regions. I still remember the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew in 1992, when I saw truckloads of clothing and other goods going straight from the delivery dock to the dump - because thousands of people, trying to help with the best intentions, donated goods that weren't needed at the time and couldn't be distributed," Stalknecht wrote.

"I tell you this to emphasize that, while we all feel the need to express our support and help with something tangible - like canned goods, clothing or other supplies - those supplies are not necessarily what is needed. The experts in disaster recovery are formulating a plan to begin the rebuilding efforts, and what they need more than anything right now is financial resources."

That's why the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors' National Association has established the New Horizons Sheet Metal Industry Relief Fund - to give money to SMACNA and Sheet Metal Workers union members displaced by Katrina.

"I know from firsthand experience this past year that SMACNA contractors are some of the most generous people on this Earth," association President Kevin Harpring said in a letter on the group's Web site. "Please join us in reaching out to our fellow contractors, their employees and families who have been the victims of this terrible tragedy. Your charitable gift will mean much to them in the days to come as they begin rebuilding their lives."

For information on how to donate to SMACNA's relief fund, go to www.smacna.org.