DISCUSSION FORUM Vulnerability of cities exposed againNov 2012
Shani Wallis, TunnelTalk
The devastation suffered by the North American eastern seaboard as a result of Hurricane Sandy, particularly in New York and New Jersey and in combination with other weather systems in the region, illustrates again the vulnerability of cities to these monster weather events. It highlights, in hindsight, a critical state of unpreparedness of existing urban infrastructure to withstand these events.
Overwhelming flooding of extensive parts of the New York/New Jersey underground infrastructure indicate that whatever systems were being relied upon to protect these facilities from inundation were inadequate. The resilience of these facilities is confirmed in the ability of responses to get these vital services back in operation within days but while road tunnels and subway stations and systems can open in efforts to get the cities back to some sort of normality, the effects of the corrosive ocean water that swamped sensitive operating systems and the fabric of the structures will live on for years to come.
As well as the immediate effects of the storm on underground transportation infrastructure there is now the serious danger of escaping natural gas from ruptured supply lines; contamination of floodwater from broken and backed-up sewer mains and treatment plants; the life threatening hazard of severed and fallen electricity power lines with fires started by surface electrical faults already claiming the homes and property of so many in the affected area.
As the costs of the devastation in the wake of the superstorm Sandy are being assessed, serious questions are also being raised about how the future events can be managed and the consequences minimised. The situation in New York and New Jersey, as a result of Superstorm Sandy (it was downgraded from hurricane as it hit the eastern seaboard) this year, is the reality of what was predicted for, but was never quite delivered by, Hurricane Irene (which also was subsequently downgraded to tropical storm) as it approached the region last year. Meteorologists predict that such severe weather systems around the globe are likely to become more frequent.
The reaction by engineers, urban planners, and politicians is being considered with some of the immediate thoughts being systematic replacement of vital electricity and telephone lines underground in well-protected conduits and the need for substantial flood defences along the shores of coastal cities around the world. So many are just above mean sea level and so many behind increasingly inadequate and ageing dykes and levies. The famous submerged city of Venice in Italy also reporting serious flooding as a result of rising sea levels over recent days.
As further news of the consequences of Sandy is reported TunnelTalk reviews our Archive to bring together a list of content that addresses the situation from incidences around the world and how the tunnelling industry in particular is responding to the evident urgency. On an international level the Committee on Underground Space of the ITA (ITACUS) is spearheading the most engaged and committed campaign in search of planning, designing and delivering more resilient cities for the future and in response to predictions of more frequent severe weather events as well as geological disasters including earthquakes. The effort by ITACUS is being advanced in partnership with three other international organisations and two divisions of the United Nations and will convene on an international level at the ITA WTC2013 congress in Geneva in May 2013.
The need to focus on the situation could not be more evident and urgent.
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