Engineering Difficulties : Hurricanes

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Engineering for disaster

World from Space In light of the recent Hurricane Sandy, it seems appropriate that we would take a look into what engineers across the country are faced with to help ease the impact of and increase preparedness for these types of natural disasters. We will be starting a small series of blogs that will discuss the different disciplines of engineering and their impact when dealing with events such as these. Hurricane engineering in itself is considered a sub-discipline of civil engineering. It relates to many aspects of civil engineering such as planning and analysis, as well as response and recovery of systems and structures after an event. Hurricane engineering relies on certain other fields in engineering such as coastal and wind, as well as some of the fields of science, such as oceanography and climatology. Following Hurricane Katrina in 2005 the United States National Science Foundation recommended that Congress increase its financial investment into hurricane science and engineering programs. Even schools such as Louisiana State University are setting a precedent with hurricane engineering programs that focus on the unique threat posed by hurricanes.

Engineering difficulties in the past

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) defined a list of critical actions following Hurricane Katrina that the nation and its engineers needed to put at the forefront for future hurricanes. The first of these is keep safety at the forefront of public priorities. There were many issues discovered when the hurricane hit and the levee protection system failed. Few estimated how devastating a failure of the levees would be and how large the consequences that would follow. There was very little priority or urgency given to the hurricane protection system. This has since been drastically changed and now there are consistent inspections, maintenance and repair to the hurricane protection system. The next critical action was to re-evaluate and fix the protection system. The levees, which were engineered to hold back high water from a storm surge, failed at more than 50 locations. The only second defense was the pump stations which failed almost immediately. Civil Engineers have designed a system that incorporates the existing infrastructure but includes appropriate tools and strategies that help increase the safety of the area. Many engineers have begun establishing mechanisms that are dynamic as the hurricane changes as well as protective non-erodible materials for when the levees are overtopped. Another of the many critical actions is to demand engineering quality. The main reason that the hurricane was so devastating was because of the massive engineering failures that some call the worst in the nation’s history. The flaws gave the engineering community a sobering reminded that much of their work has life or death implications. Following the hurricane, the ASCE called for the engineering community to update their design procedures for hurricane and flood protection to ensure the safety of all in the future.

Looking to engineers to build the future

Officials have estimated that the destruction of Hurricane Sandy has projected losses that could easily exceed fifty billion dollars, making this one of the most expensive natural disaster in US history. The need for engineers to design better technology is now greater than ever to strengthen our infrastructure as well as develop more effective methods to rebuild after the damage has been done.  As we move forward in our series, we will discuss the different complications caused by Hurricane Sandy and how the different disciplines work alone or in tandem to overcome or improve the way in which they are handled. We will discuss some of proactive as well as reactive technology that is applicable to hurricanes and other natural disasters.  We will look into the structural engineering aspect in regards to the buildings and tunnels that run throughout, the electrical problems the coast faced, as well as the mechanical engineering difficulties being faced.


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