Within the past month, major hurricanes hit Florida, Texas, and Puerto Rico, two earthquakes only days apart, led to the loss of over 100 lives and the destruction of massive amounts of infrastructure in Mexico, and hundreds of thousands of acres of land have burned in the Pacific Northwest from wildfires.
These events coincided with the annual National Preparedness Month. The message of the month is it is not a question of if a natural disaster will affect your community, but rather, when? The unpreventable, and often unpredictable, aspect of natural disasters is what strikes fear into the hearts of the citizens of towns which they affect.
But our technology is advancing, allowing us to be better prepared, including by building more resilient infrastructure. The National Institute of Standards and Technology has a six-step process to planning for community resilience.
- Form a collaborative planning team
- Understand the situation
- Social Dimensions
- Build Environment
- Link Social Functions and Built Environment
- Determine goals and objectives
- Develop a plan
- Prepare, review, and approve a plan
- Implement and maintain the plan
The ASCE 2017 Report Card lists the infrastructure Game Changers, the new technologies or systems of implementation that are changing the way we view infrastructure itself, and how we build it. With a focus on resiliency, places like the San Francisco Airport (SFO) are leading the way in the effort to make our nation’s infrastructure more prepared for a natural disaster. After the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake shut down the air traffic control tower at the SFO, the need for resilient infrastructure was clear to airport administrators, including in the design of SFO’s newly completed air traffic control tower. The new tower is designed to withstand a 7.5 magnitude earthquake, and features an innovative post-tensioning system that can clamp the structure back into place during a seismic event. This technology, combined with a reinforced concrete core and 40,000-pound steel damper blocks that protect the tower from wind, makes the structure a model of resilient engineering and ensures that the San Francisco International Airport will be safer and more reliable due to a control tower that stays in control even after an earthquake.
It is time to stop building for now, and start designing for the future.