Time to rebuild… and reevaluate

Sandy devastated many communities along the Connecticut coast.
Photo: Office of Governor Dannel Malloy

It is already clear that Hurricane Sandy will go down in the history books as the nation’s costliest natural disaster.

To date.

A scary but important caveat to an already petrifying statement.

Whether you believe that global warming is real or not or even whether such storms are connected to such supposed phenomena, the fact that the urban population of our nation steadily increases, especially along our coastline, clearly beckons a reevaluation of our infrastructure, city planning and urban engineering.

As the storm slowly leaves our area and the sun peeks through the skies a new dawn emerges yet we are still reeling from the effects of a weather system that, despite predictions of lingering around, passed pretty quickly. This, in fact, is true for most storms.

The only reason why we are still feeling the effects of Sandy is because our infrastructure is not designed to handle 12-foot surges, high winds and lots of rain. The reasons for this important shortcoming range from the age of the system to poor planning and cost. Our dependence on urban services and utilities only makes things worse.

While Florida and the many other southern states are designed to take frequent pounding from hurricanes for obvious reasons, the much more densely populated Mid-Atlantic and Northeast states are not.

Hence the devastation of Irene (2011), which was supposed to be the storm of the century. Then came the Halloween snowstorm a few short weeks later which left scores without power all over the Northeast and which many compared to Irene in terms of its lingering effects on civilization (power was out for more then a week for many). Then comes Sandy, which, while lacking the precipitation levels of Irene, pummeled the coast with unbelievably high storm surge devastating New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and many other states.

That storm surge, which carried the biggest punch of this weather system, is something that we should get used to and plan for it in the future. In the last century, sea levels have risen more than 7 inches.  That doesn’t sound like much but it could be the difference between dry home or private lake in your living room. Also, given the expectation that levels will only continue to rise for the foreseeable future, and at a faster pace, building our cities at or near sea level, and rebuilding or leaving current infrastructure without adequate protection is irresponsible and flat out crazy.

It is, in fact, insane. As Einstein put it, insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results”. By this definition, rebuilding without Irene, Sandy and the next biggest storm in mind is, well, insane.

Hurricane Sandy’s devastation is just starting to sink in (no pun intended) but unless we want to make its dark legacy last and not be replaced by another one soon we should think hard and make sure that whatever we rebuild is rebuilt wisely.

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