Saturday, December 1, 2012

Engineering for Climate Adaption in 12 Projects

From the November 26, 2012 issue of Newsweek - - Everyday Armageddon by David Cay Johnston.  The article discusses the idea that disasters far greater than Sandy loom unless we move fast to fix a badly broken public and private infrastructure system.  We in this case is primarily the engineering communities.

This is a list of 12 projects that Johnston outlined in the article:
  1. Accelerate replacement of natural gas pipelines.  During Sandy, leaking gas fueled hundreds of fires, including blazes that despite the torrential rains, reduced to ashes about 200 homes in the Breezy Point section of Queens and the New Jersey coastal town of Mantoloking.  Earlier this year, New Jersey Natural Gas chairman Lawrence M. Downes boasted to shareholders about this company's "rock-solid infrastructure."  But deep in his annual report's fine print was this scary fact: the company planned to slash pipeline spending, including maintenance, from $121 million this year to just $70 million in 2013.  Pipelines laid in open fields when Truman and Eisenhower were in the White House remain in use, their corroding shells running beneath or past schools, hospitals, and tot-lot parks.  When the steel walls fail, the tearing metal will spark, creating a zone of certain death hundreds of feet wide.
  2. Stop AT&T and Verizon from shutting down the old copper-wire telephone system, the only telecommunications that work when the electric grid goes down and cellphone-tower batteries run out of juice.  Maintaining even a partial system-akin to the old police communication boxes that let officers call in before they carried radios - could save lives during emergencies, including any future terrorist attacks.
  3. Demand that electric utilities replace power poles as they wear out and maintain equipment, especially changing oils in large transformers before they congeal and stick, to reduce long-term costs.  And hire more utility workers.  When utilities keep enough staff on hand to maintain systems, taxpayers will not need to fly linemen and cherry pickers in military cargo planes from California to New York.
  4. Increase tree trimming to prevent downed electrical lines during storms, and move more lines underground to make the electric grid more reliable.
  5. Promote smaller grids instead of the vast multistate grids now being developed that can throw tens of millions of people into darkness because of one mistake or even one fallen tree limb.
  6. Develop a 10-year plan to tear down, rebuild, or strengthen every dam rated risky by the civil-engineering society before a combination of heavy rains and hubris give us a deadly, unnecessary remake of the 1889 Johnstown flood.
  7. Replace within a decade every large water, and sewer main past its predicted life, with an emphasis on the largest pipes - some of which are nine feet across and operate at pressures of 80 pounds per square inch.  Water mains break at the rate of nearly 800 per day. 
  8. Place big warning signs on every highway bridge, advising motorists of when the structure should have have been rebuilt or replaced, and when, if ever, work is scheduled to begin.
  9. Invest in riprap seawalls that extend perpendicular from the shoreline into the sea.  These structures capture drifting sand and build up and maintain sand dunes, and the vegetation that holds them in place.  With seawalls, the natural flow of sand in the water turns narrow coastal beaches into wide stretches that reduce damage to barrier islands and the waterfront communities during hurricanes.
  10. Replace rail lines running through marshlands, like the NJ Transit lines feeding into Manhattan, with elevated structures.  This would limit commuter service disruption after future storms, and allow for more natural flows of water and life nature's nurseries.
  11. Rebuild marshes and other natural barriers, like oyster reefs, that absorb the shock of storms; these barriers have been ravaged by development in the last two centuries.
  12. Require detailed emergency plans by natural-gas, electric, water, and telecommunications utilities as a condition of keeping their licences.  And make sure these plans are publicly available and the subject of biannual public hearings in each town to create public awareness of the dangers and what is being done to minimize them.

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