Rising sea levels, climate change, and resiliency are buzzwords floating around lately, and we engineers and catastrophe modelers are paying attention. I was really excited to be invited recently to join a panel discussing the impact of climate change on disaster resiliency at the Boston chapter of the International Facility Managers Association's spring lecture series.
The panel was one of a series of lectures with the theme of sustainability. We discussed case studies, lessons learned from Hurricane Sandy, and resiliency in general-and tried to address the following questions:
- How is climate change impacting the world as we know it?
- What are we learning from climate models and past storms?
- What can we learn from European community leaders addressing climate adaptation to mitigate sea level rise and flood risk?
- How are design and construction standards being influenced by rising sea levels in New York?
- What is next for Boston?
I talked about climate change signals-such as temperature change, sea level rise, and precipitation pattern change-and their impact on flood risk and infrastructure resiliency. Martine Dion, Director of Sustainable Design at Symmes Maini & McKee Associates in Boston, showed how disaster mitigation measures had been incorporated while moving forward with development projects in Copenhagen and Hamburg. And Rebecca Hatchdorian, Senior Sustainability Consultant at Arup, talked about stages of recovery from an event and addressed what it means to be resilient-dealing with bad stuff when it happens or the ability to bounce back.
Observations show that, due to climate change, average global temperature has increased, sea levels are rising, and annual total precipitation amounts are increasing. Sea level rise dramatically increases the odds of damaging floods from storm surge. With extreme conditions occurring more often and becoming more pronounced the frequency, as well as the severity, of inland floods is also increasing.
In urban areas, where there is a strong relationship between the amount of impervious surfaces and the volume of rainwater to be managed, that means more flash floods. Because of the increased risk of flash flooding in urban areas we have to take a closer look at infrastructures. According to the recent U.S. infrastructures report by ASCE, many of our infrastructures have already surpassed their design capacity. For example, older settlements such as Boston, New York, or Chicago have old, combined storm water/sewer systems, which are already overwhelmed.
If we keep building the way we used to, things are only going to get worse. Engineers have to respond by finding new solutions. Incorporating elements of resiliency, demonstrating sustainability,and adapting to potential impacts of climate change in project design are clearly the way to go.
Why should you care? Floods can happen anywhere and impact you and your property. The resiliency of your surroundings will dictate some level of your risk. The more resilient our neighborhoods,properties, and infrastructures are, the quicker we'll be back in business after a disaster.