Civil Engineering in Natural Disaster

Climate change is causing extreme weather around the world. The situation is compounded by increased congestion in urban areas, the increased habitation of disaster-prone zones, the lack of sufficient infrastructure for disaster mitigation and the depopulation of rural areas into city centers. Changes to the social and natural environment contributes to a shift in the characteristics and magnitude of natural disasters.

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Civil Engineering in Natural Disaster

Role of civil engineers in disaster mitigation

Many Asian countries have been affected by waves of tsunamis and earthquakes. In 2004, more than 200,000 people lost their lives in Indonesia as a result of a deadly tsunami. In the same year, an earthquake rocked Japan leaving a trail of destruction. The event was caused by slope failures in mountainous areas. The Niigata Prefecture suffered extensive damage.

Civil engineers can help mitigate the impact of natural disasters by developing solutions for improving infrastructure. In addition, they can build structures capable of resisting damage. In Japan, engineers helped improve soft alluvial and man-made surfaces with the aim to improve the resistance of infrastructures, such as port harbor facilities, highways and railways.

A number of methods for improving surfaces have been developed. Some solutions, such as passive and active control systems are designed to minimize the dynamic effects on bridges and buildings during earthquakes. Reinforcement of existing structures is one way that engineers are contributing to disaster mitigation.

The earthquake early warning system was developed to help save lives. The solution detects the epicenter of earthquakes by analyzing ground motion records in the vicinity of earthquake faults. It sends warnings in the event that the seismic activity is intense enough to cause damage.

The warning is sent to a wide variety of organizations, including railway companies. In turn, key services like high-speed trains will be halted while road and air traffic is controlled carefully. Many industrial plants and water supply systems are closed in anticipation of ground motion.

Buildings, nuclear power plants, dams, pipelines and bridges are major investments. The economic well-being of a country and the lifestyle of its citizens depends on such critical civil infrastructure. Some of the structures contribute to the safety and security of citizens. For civil engineers, the challenge is to safeguard these assets in the face of natural disasters.

Monitoring the structural integrity of dams, nuclear power plants and buildings provides a practical way to assess their condition after natural disasters. The insights can be used during rescue and recovery operations. Additionally, engineers will find it easier to identify incipient structural damage that occurs due to long-term deterioration.

However, sensor-based monitoring technologies are still unreliable due to the effects of harsh environmental factors. Ideal solutions are cost-effectiveness, easy-to-install and environment-resistant. They can be embedded into civic infrastructure. Researchers are testing MEMS-based systems and nanotechnology with the aim to introduce a reliable and innovative damage detection system.

When successfully implemented the nanotechnology and MEMS detection systems will lead to wireless and high-density data collection.

Role of Army Corps of Engineers

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) is always ready to respond to man-made and natural disasters. It forms part of the federal government’s unified national response in the event of emergencies. The engineers’ role is to save lives and property in addition to providing much-needed support for emergency response priorities for various government agencies. These include the Department of Defense, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Federal Government.

The USACE can respond to emergencies without the need to wait for authorization. Under Public Law 84-99, USACE may undertake a wide variety of rescue and recovery operations. The unit can implement disaster preparedness programs. These activities encompass training, coordination and planning. Also, they involve the stockpiling of critical equipment and supplies needed during natural disasters and other emergencies.

Under Emergency Operations, the Army Corps of Engineers respond to flood and storm-related disasters. Such events activate the USACE’s Emergency Operations Center, which handles the command and control of disaster operations. In addition, the center provides liaison to local governments, states and FEMA.

The unit is also tasked with the responsibility of providing technical assistance. Army engineers provide advice on inundation mapping, historical data and flood modeling. Direct assistance incorporates the provision of flood fighting materials and equipment, including sandbags and pumps.

Post Flood Response requires a presidential disaster declaration as stipulated by the FEMA Stafford Act. The declaration allows various agencies, including USACE to clear and restore public transportation routes, provide technical assistance and clear blocked water courses.

On the other hand, the rehabilitation program is aimed at inspecting and rehabilitating damaged flood risk management projects. The program has up to 9,500 miles of levees. Additional programs include the restoration program, advance measures, drought assistance and emergency water assistance.

Natural Hazards Mitigation

Effective mitigation measures can be identified, prioritized, and implemented once the overall risk is properly understood. The measures play a key role when it comes to achieving disaster resistance. They ameliorate cascading effects in situations where natural disasters degrade an asset. The deterioration of structural integrity may create additional hazards. This exacerbates the magnitude of functional degradation of critical assets.

Many experts are convinced that unsustainable development contributes to an increase in the cost of natural disasters. Mitigation design strategies provide a viable way to prevent or minimize disaster losses. They also bolster long-term community sustainability initiatives. Prohibiting development in flood-prone areas is a good example of such mitigation strategies.

Mitigation schemes reduce overall costs of disasters regardless of whether the measures are implemented correctively as retrofits or during construction. The later is more cost-effective. Risk reduction techniques maximize the protective effect when they address as many hazards as possible. The approach is known as all-hazard mitigation and it optimizes a variety of design techniques to reinforce structural integrity.

To maximize disaster resistance, high-performance buildings must be designed using advanced strategies that go beyond standard building code requirements. This makes it easier to mitigate losses of life, property and function.

Unanticipated interactions from multi-hazard events may trigger cascading effects. Such consequences may be aggravated by the failure to increase infrastructure capacity to meet the rising demand or poor maintenance of assets.


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