2014Natural Disasters Disrupt Communities

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2014Natural disasters disrupt communities.pdf
    Chapter 8 INCORPORATING DISASTER RESILIENCE INTO DISASTER RECOVERY INTRODUCTION  Natural disasters disrupt communities. They destroy property, force people out of their homes, close businesses, suspend normal routines, and sometimes take lives. Often, natural disasters rearrange the landscape by tossing buildings, upending roads, toppling trees, reshaping rivers, scattering debris, and rendering a community unrecognizable to its residents. Under these unsettling conditions, communities feel isolated and helpless, and there is tremendous pressure from residents, property owners, and businesses to put things in order, to rebuild the community  back the way it was before  —  assuming that is even possible.  Natural disasters also create opportunities for action. State, and in some cases federal, agencies will converge on the stricken community to assist with the rebuilding effort. Outside money may  be available to undertake projects that were previously considered infeasible financially, such as elevating a damage-prone road, relocating a police station, or floodproofing a sewage treatment  plant. Damaged or destroyed buildings, roads, and utilities can be rebuilt in safer locations or  built to be more damage-resistant. And perhaps most importantly, the community will be focused, at least temporarily, on its own vulnerability and the need to take decisive action. Timing is critical. In the immediate aftermath of a disaster, a community will be faced with key decisions that will have long-term consequences on its vulnerability to future disasters, with no time for extensive research or prolonged deliberations. This is why it is so important to have a hazard mitigation plan in place to guide the recovery effort. The plan can provide the framework to make informed decisions in an environment of chaos, uncertainty, and expediency. It can help keep decisionmakers focused on the ultimate goal of creating a more sustainable, resilient community. And it can help establish priorities for action. Some communities have learned to roll with Nature ’ s punches by placing buildings and key infrastructure out of harm ’ s way. That is, they are resilient. For example, after severe flooding in the spring of 1997, the cities of Grand Forks, North Dakota, and East Grand Forks across the river in Minnesota, decided to reduce flood risks by acquiring floodprone properties, building a levee to protect properties that could not be moved, and establishing a minimum setback 8  – 1  Saves lives and property and reduces vulnerability to future hazards By implementing a mitigation strategy such as moving people and buildings out of harm ’ s way, a community can save lives and reduce property damage from future disasters — an opportunity that is often lost in the rush to build back to pre- disaster conditions. Speeds recovery By reducing damage to buildings and infrastructure, a community can minimize economic and social disruptions and bounce back quicker after a disaster strikes. Demonstrates commitment to improving community health & safety A mitigation strategy demonstrates a community ’ s commitment to safeguarding its citizens and protecting its economic, social, and environmental well-being. Facilitates post-disaster funding By identifying and prioritizing projects before the next disaster, communities will be in a better position to obtain post-disaster funding. Incorporating Disaster Resilience distance from the Red River. The combined effort of the two cities resulted in the acquisition of over 1,000 homes and the creation of a 2,200-acre greenway along the river. Plans call for the development of parks, open space, athletic fields, cultural and educational areas, and the restoration of floodplain habitat (see Chapter 5 on Economic Vitality for more information about the communities ’  recovery from the Red River flood). . Resilient communities bend but don ’ t break when disaster strikes. One way for a community to  become more resilient is to mitigate the impacts of natural hazards. Hazard mitigation  —  a technical term for reducing risks to people and property from natural hazards  —  includes both structural measures, such as flood control levees and landslide barriers, as well as nonstructural measures, such as land use regulations that restrict construction in earthquake fault zones or in floodplains. Mitigation includes not only avoiding additional development in vulnerable areas of a community, but making existing development in hazard-prone areas safer. In general, hazard mitigation involves the following three principles or actions:   Making new buildings and infrastructure located in hazard-prone areas more damage- resistant and resilient through the use of building codes, design standards, and construction practices and, to safeguard existing development, through protective devices such as dams, levees and seawalls (structural mitigation), if relocation is infeasible.   Avoiding development in hazard-prone areas by steering new development to less risky areas  —  that is, to keep buildings out of harm ’ s way in the first place  —  and by relocating damaged buildings to safer areas after a disaster.   Protecting natural areas like wetlands, floodplains, forested areas, sand dunes, and other ecological elements that can absorb and reduce the impacts of hazards. (Godschalk et al., 1999) Some Benefits of Hazard Mitigation 8  – 2    Incorporating Disaster Resilience Hazard mitigation and disaster resilience go hand-in-hand. A community that follows these three mitigation approaches and also makes use of hazard and other types of insurance that are available will be more resilient the next time disaster strikes. It will bounce back faster. RECOVERY STRATEGIES TO BUILD A DISASTER-RESILIENT COMMUNITY Building a disaster-resilient community can start during disaster recovery. A community can start with the  situations  that exist after a disaster, pick and choose among the  options  for making itself more disaster resilient and among the implementation  tools  available to help pursue each of those options. Combining these, the community can develop  strategies  that are specially tailored to its own needs. The Matrix of Opportunities in Chapter 1 shows some of the options a recovering community could use to enhance its disaster resilience while it tends to disaster-caused  predicaments. The situations and options shown on the matrix, and the tools listed below, are not exhaustive; rather, they are meant to give an idea of the range of possibilities. Likewise, the sample strategies below suggest ways in which some options and disaster-induced situations could be combined to help a community become more resistant to natural disasters. Notice how each of the strategies suggested below uses one or more of the options listed on the Matrix of Opportunities under the fifth sustainability principle, “ Incorporate Disaster Resilience/Mitigation. ”   Situation:  Damage to transportation facilities Roads often lie directly in the path of natural hazards, and as a result, damage is common. For example, roads get washed out by hurricanes, inundated by floods, buried by landslides and torn apart by earthquakes. Repairs are expensive. Recovery Strategies to build Disaster Resilience:   Rebuild to improve resistance to damage. Older transportation facilities can be upgraded to more modern standards that make them more resistant to damage from floods, earthquakes, and other risks.   Relocate, where feasible. In some cases, transportation facilities could be relocated or rerouted around hazard-prone areas.   Reduce adverse impacts caused by such facilities. For example, certain roads and highways in eastern North Carolina acted as dams during Hurricane Floyd, obstructing the flow of floodwaters and causing extensive flooding of nearby areas.   Examine the impact of such facilities on encouraging development in hazard-prone locations. Widening roads may only stimulate additional development in risky areas. Situation:  Damage to public facilities Public facilities such as schools and community centers often serve as emergency shelters after disaster strikes. Unfortunately, these facilities themselves may suffer damage from natural disasters. Recovery Strategies to build Disaster Resilience:   Protect against future damage by making such facilities more resistant to damage. For example, elevate buildings above the flood height or build a berm to help keep out floodwaters. 8  – 3    Incorporating Disaster Resilience OPTIONS FOR IMPROVING DISASTER RESILIENCE   Make buildings & infrastructure damage-resistant.   Avoid development in hazardous areas.   Manage stormwater.   Protect natural areas.   Promote & obtain hazard and other insurance.   Relocate to a less vulnerable area.   Avoid building new public facilities in hazard-prone areas. Situation:  Damage to utilities Utilities are extremely vulnerable to natural disasters. Fallen trees can down  power lines, earthquakes can tear apart water or gas lines, and floods can inundate wastewater treatment plants. Protecting utilities from damage can minimize the economic and social disruptions caused by natural disasters. Recovery Strategies to build Disaster Resilience:   Safeguard power lines from damage by fallen trees by putting the lines underground.   Move water or gas lines out of harm ’ s way. For example, re-route utility lines around earthquake fault zones or floodplains.   Protect existing facilities from damage, for example, by constructing berms around sewage treatment facilities located in floodplains.   When planning to install new lines, identify the location of hazard-prone areas and try to avoid them.   Build redundancy into the system. For example, be able to shift water or wastewater treatment capacity to treatment plants not located in hazard-prone areas.   Develop plans to contain and treat spills from existing gas or wastewater treatment lines that may be damaged by natural disasters. Situation:  Damage to homes and businesses Homes and businesses may suffer direct or indirect damage from natural disasters. For example, wildfires may consume houses, or a hurricane may knock down power lines, putting businesses out of commission temporarily and leaving homes in the dark. Recovery Strategies to build Disaster Resilience:   Buy out or relocate damage-prone properties. Acquiring or relocating homes or  businesses located in hazard-prone areas, particularly structures that have been damaged repetitively, can help reduce the public costs of disasters, which include emergency services, evacuation, emergency shelters, debris removal, and the loss of tax revenues.   Acquire vacant, hazard-prone property. Buying vacant property and prohibiting its development permanently reduces the risk of damage to those properties while providing additional open space, wildlife habitat, and recreation areas.   Rebuild according to modern building codes; upgrade the local code if necessary. Typically, older buildings not built to modern standards are the ones that suffer the most from natural disasters. When rebuilding, make sure that structures comply with modern  building codes that specify how to make buildings more resistant to damage from hurricanes, floods, wildfires, wind, or earthquakes. Educate builders about hazard- resistant provisions in the codes. 8  – 4


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