Natural disasters—hurricanes, typhoons, cyclones, flooding, earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis, wildfires, etc.—have a huge impact on people, as they abruptly find themselves shouldering losses, devastation, and death. Take the August 2005 Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, Louisiana, as just one example, which caused much suffering to fellow human beings.
Natural disasters are connected to the earth and the solar system’s large and complex dynamism, but also to our human activities. While we can do little about the former, we can modify and alter the latter.
Following are suggested actions around engineering aspects of disaster, in an attempt to raise more consciousness in the future for such unexpected events:
Ultimately, our response to a disaster is the final test of the long-term planning and process that we have put together. Obviously, many obstacles exist against both pre- and post-disaster work, including technical (uncertainties in assessment and modeling, availability of communications and computers), logistical (adequate equipment and access to remote/mountainous areas), financial (initial and long-term costs), political, and administrative (bureaucracy, corruption, and distrust). The World Road Association (PIARC) has published a report titled “Risks Associated with Natural Disasters, Climate Change, Man-Made Disasters
and Security Threats” (2013 R12EN). The document presents a user guide to evaluate the risks associated with all hazards, practical techniques for managing risks associated with natural disasters (such as heavy rainfall, earthquakes, forest fires), case studies used to mitigate or reduce risks associated with hazards, and a proposed Risk Management Toolbox. Other reports about Katrina and, more recently Hurricane Sandy (2012), and reports by FEMA and other institutions, are resources for engineers to prepare themselves and be able to plan and advise on solutions for infrastructure recovery and rehabilitation.
From the disasters that we have witnessed and participated on a voluntary basis, our most significant lessons learned are:
If we need to implement resiliency against and after major disasters, we must prepare ourselves and be ready to mitigate risks and safeguard within reasonable probabilities our institutions and communities. It is our responsibility as engineers to be active participants in this endeavor to protect our society.