Hurricanes and earthquakes cause horrendous damage to life, property, and physical community assets like roads, bridges, signs, and signals in our transportation system. Most of us can remember the trauma of hurricanes IKE and KATRINA but many have forgotten CARLA and CELIA that devastated the United States 3-4 decades ago.
We are now faced with HARVEY and IRMA and others in the Gulf and Atlantic; MARIA, JOSE, and LEE to name a few. Unfortunately, we are little better equipped to handle these events than we were 30 years ago. Some improvements have been made in early warning systems but little else. Of the $8 billion set aside for FEMA to use after one of the recent major storms, $1.2 billion remains undistributed. New Orleans has only partially recovered from Katrina after a decade, with 200,000 displaced residents having not returned.
As my family and I watched TV, glued to The Weather Channel because we own a vacation home in Rockport, TX that had a direct hit 2-3 weeks ago from HARVEY, there wasn’t a lot of damage, most of it was on the exterior and can be taken care of. It was good to see people evacuating earlier due to the warning systems. However, we saw many affected areas in Texas and Florida where the outbound lanes were choked with stop and go traffic, while adjacent inbound lanes were empty. Gas stations along the way were loaded with cars or out of gasoline because tanker trucks could not get through. We have better warning systems but have not made improvements in our evacuation processes.
We have seen the exact same thing in all previous storms but little has been done to solve the problem of the evacuation process. The question is WHY? While there are always good intentions to solve these problems we quickly turn to recovery and little is done to prepare for the future. Congestion Management Systems that exist could be modified to help alleviate the problem and save countless lives and save 1000s of hours of citizens time. Waiting until “the next one“ will be too late! Again!
There are 3 major areas that transportation Asset Management Systems (AMS) can help in such disasters. A proper effort needs to be given to system modification and new development. These involve RELIEF, RECOVERY and RECONSTRUCTION/REBUILDING.
First, it is important not to repeat the mistakes of the last 100 years and more. RELIEF Management software can and should be developed with national and possibly international funding, tested, dispersed and used on future disasters. One of the first elements to consider is how to safely reverse the traffic on the inbound lanes. We cannot outline the problems completely in this short post, but 2 key issues are closing inbound ramps on the inbound lane safely and providing access to fuel sources on that side of the road. Many agencies are afraid of litigation if any accidents were to occur, but the trade-off of lives saved is large and laws can be passed to permit such actions. The System should involve Public-Private joint action since the needed fuel is private.
State and local transportation agencies outside the affected areas have major resources such as trucks, heavy equipment, boats and materials that can be mobilized to assist in recovery. Some are now used, but many more could be brought to bear more quickly. Agencies could use their Fleet and Maintenance Management Systems to determine availability and location of resources to permit moving and locating the resources closer to the disaster area for rapid dispatch and earlier availability.
The pavement, bridge, and signs/signals/safety portions of the Asset Management System provide a well-documented status report and condition history of these assets. This could permit the state transportation and city/county public works agencies to rapidly access the true damage more quickly after the disaster, comparing before and after statuses of assets, and estimate needs and costs of reconstruction much faster. Safety assets, signs, signals etc. are particularly important. There are many more ways that AMS can help.
Now is definitely the time to address these issues while the massive damage and costs of so many disasters are fresh in our minds. While billions of dollars are being provided for recovery, a few million should be set aside for adapting and developing AMS for disaster Relief, Recovery, and Reconstruction. This would help reduce costs of future events, improve safety for all citizens, and reduce recovery and reconstruction time for the vital infrastructure. We know full well that they will be coming, it is time to get prepared in advance, NOW IS THE HOUR!
Maybe we should join together and write a proposal to FEMA to obtain such funding.