Rebuilding After a Natural Disaster

Georgia Tech professors share their expertise on disaster recovery and smart infrastructure.

Hurricane season may be coming to an end soon, but it’s not without significant impact and devastation. Two Georgia Tech experts offer their perspective on infrastructure and how to rebuild after severe weather events. 

According to Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor Hermann Fritz, “There have been significant improvements in Florida and Gulf Coast building codes over the past three decades. Hurricane Ian’s impact was mostly storm surge and storm wave-driven, while the amount of wind damage was limited and highlights the success of advancing building codes since Hurricane Andrew.”

Iris Tien, associate professor in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, points to hurricanes increasing in frequency and severity and says it’s not enough to build based solely on what’s happened in the past. “We need to transform our thinking from reacting to events to becoming anticipatory and forward-looking. We don’t want to build just to need to rebuild again when the next hurricane occurs. In creating resilient infrastructure, we need to anticipate what future events, loadings, shocks, and stressors our infrastructure is going to need to withstand, and build to those levels.”

Fritz shares other experts’ belief that storms are likely to become more frequent, and potentially larger, with higher wind speeds, storm surge, and other hazards. Even in basins where storms have been rare, such as the Arabian Sea, there has been an increase in the frequency of storms, which may be linked to increasing sea surface temperature.

Each city, state, and region has its own risk exposure, environmental conditions, and population characteristics. It is critical that builders, city planners, and infrastructure operators look to the future to anticipate what conditions are likely to look like and implement solutions that consider the range of possible storm impacts, as well as environment- and population-specific factors to create and tailor solutions for their specific community.

“Locations and types of infrastructure are both important to consider,” Tien said. “We need to invest in infrastructure that is adaptive to varying levels of demands anticipated for these systems. We also need to invest in infrastructure where success is evaluated by community and population impacts. This will ensure infrastructure that is resilient, sustainable, and equitable in serving communities moving into the future.”

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