What to do right now to be better prepared for a major hurricane

We can no longer afford to endure the brunt force of Mother Nature.

Over the past few weeks the world has watched in horror as the Atlantic Ocean unleashed the most devastating hurricane season in living memory.

Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Jose and Maria each took turns battering the United States and its Caribbean territories, killing over 140 people in the United States alone and costing the country an estimated $290 billion in damages.

And the 2017 hurricane season is only halfway done.

The United States needs to be more prepared to deal with extreme weather events like hurricanes, especially since climate scientists predict the average intensity of tropical cyclones to increase by 2 – 11 percent by the end of the century.

Government officials and private American companies should work to reinvigorate the coastal infrastructure and revolutionize its emergency preparedness protocol if they want to avoid the death toll and economic cost of major storms like these.

Build seawalls

The most destructive force in a hurricane is the storm surge, or the sudden rise in sea level caused by the low pressure of the storm.

In order to combat storm surge, which causes 49 percent of hurricane-related deaths, the United States needs to invest in coastal infrastructure that is proved to reduce flooding impacts.

Dikes, storm levees and surge walls are all types of seawalls the United States could engineer to protect its most populated surge-prone bays and ports.

The Netherlands has been leading the world in surge and flood barrier development for centuries, and has recently built the world’s most advanced system of seawalls to protect the low-lying country of over 17 million.

On average, the Dutch spent about $10 million for each kilometer of meter-high seawall they constructed along their coasts, and spend about $447 million a year to maintain them.

The Maeslant Storm Surge Barrier that now guards dutch harbors, and remains the largest surge barrier in the world, cost $500 million to construct and can protect the nearby cities from a storm surge up to 16 feet.

If the United States is prepared to pay nearly $300 billion for structural and economic damages for just one hurricane season, then the investment in seawall construction surely already pays for itself.


Fund satellite technology and climate science

Climate scientists do more than make bleak predictions about humanity’s future, they actually work mostly on weather forecasting.

Since the invention of the weather satellite, forecasting has been increasingly more accurate and communities are given significant warning before lethal storms make landfall.

If the United States could invest in satellite technology and continue to support NASA’s climate monitoring program, climate scientists may be able to improve the accuracy of their predictions and provide the public with even longer warning times.


Enforce mandatory evacuations

When severe storms strike state governments often call for a mandatory evacuation of certain coastal zones.

Mandatory evacuations are anything but mandatory, seeing as officials rarely enforce them and instead usually stress to residents how they won’t be able to contact emergency services during the storm.

People who stay behind in evacuation zones put their lives in jeopardy, not to mention the lives of the first responders who eventually have to rescue them, whenever they stay back.

“People don’t evacuate because they underestimate the power of the storm,” said Mitch Boyer, a meteorology major at the College of Charleston. “They survived when they didn’t evacuate for a storm in the past, so they think they won’t have to evacuate for storms in the future, it’s a really dangerous mentality.”


Tighten coastal building codes

Buildings that collapse or fail due to hurricane force winds or storm surge can kill people and cost an immense amount of money to clean up and rebuild.

A great way to help prevent structural failures is to model all coastal building codes after the world-class standards set in southern Florida.

Southern Florida has some of the strictest building codes in the world and, as a result, its structures are superior to most at handling tremendous wind and water loads.

Structural damage to power facilities and industrial plants can be an environmental and humanitarian disaster.

The United States must tighten its coastal building codes to prevent deaths and widespread structural damage during intense storms.


Combat demand surge

Demand surge, unlike storm surge, accounts for the rise in costs of essential materials and services accompanying a natural disaster.

Demand surge can result in prices 20 percent or higher than normal, gauging residents in threatened coastal communities.

Demand surge is not regulated by the government, and the increased prices are determined by specific companies and industries.

Most companies consider demand surge as a price buffer between the expected financial loss and the realized financial loss due to a natural disaster.

The issue is, however, that each company is entitled to their own financial loss estimate and can manipulate their prices accordingly.

Companies don’t have to share their loss estimates, which consumer activists say give them the ability to arbitrarily hike up prices of life-saving goods and materials.

The United States needs to protect vulnerable consumers in tropical storm-prone regions by capping prices on certain goods and materials.

In order for citizens and governments to safely prepare their communities for major hurricanes, they need to be ensured fair access to building materials and services.

When it comes to hurricanes, the United States cannot afford to continually pay for damages.

Instead, the government should invest in more advanced climate science, coastal infrastructure should be constructed and regulated to reduce impact effects while economic and social regulations could be introduced to help protect people in harm’s way.

by Aaron Neuhauser













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