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HomeTrendingWake Up Call: Enhancing Infrastructure Resilience to Survive Natural Disasters

Wake Up Call: Enhancing Infrastructure Resilience to Survive Natural Disasters

Sachidanand Joshi, Head of UBMS Research Group (URG)

Twelve bridges collapsed in 15 days resulting in suspension of 15 engineers. Three airports report failed roofing. Floods cause widespread damage to buildings and infrastructure. Similar reports have been in headlines of many geographical regions from around the world. Soon the government of the day in many regions will need to suspend all engineers. The spurt of failed infrastructure, may it be bridges, airports, roads, ports will hog the limelight. Floods, Earthquakes, Cyclones, in general natural hazards will occur and will not stop.  

Climate changes ushers dynamism to the frequency of occurrence of natural hazards with increasing severity. A once in hundred year occurrence is becoming common every second year. Very severe, category 4 or 5 hurricanes or cyclones are becoming more frequent and intense. Such occurrence results in total shutdown of normal life. Who else but cricket lovers would know the plight of T20 Champions for three days holed up in a hotel some 9000 kms away from millions of people waiting for their return to celebrate? 

Aging Infrastructure and Its Challenges

The vagaries of nature will continue to crumble with a high percentage of  infrastructure. Aging infrastructure is prone to accelerated deterioration. The deterioration arises due to fatigue, wear and tear, reduced strength capacity and more intense responses to higher levels of stress in the structure. 

Inspection or structural audits do not bring out the whole picture. Inspection can never identify the probability of any infrastructure collapse. They can at best identify the severity of distress. Designing and providing remedial interventions to the identified distress manages to render the short term safety of the structure. Post remedial interventions, if suddenly the structure is exposed to a severe natural hazard, it may in all probability collapse. 

Need for Government Action

Unless the government of the day implements a law to enforce resilience and provides required funds to implement actions leading to resilience, this vicious process will continue. António Guterres,  Secretary-General of the United Nations, a few days ago, has urged all the nations to enact such a law. In a recent speech he mentioned and I quote “ It’s We the Peoples versus the polluters and the profiteers. Together, we can win.  But it’s time for leaders to decide whose side they’re on. Tomorrow is too late. Now is the time to mobilise, now is the time to act, now is the time to deliver.”  This statement was made on 3rd June when he urged that it is a “Moment of Truth” speech.

Research and Solutions

So what is the solution?  Should we allow infrastructure to crumble and then define a natural hazard as a natural disaster? Till recently, very few researchers probed into the behavioral patterns of aging and deteriorating structures.

Recent research findings highlight the poor percentage of bridge structures being capable of surviving a high to very high severity of natural hazard occurrence. A miniscule but dedicated group of researchers made a commitment to the United Nations office of Disaster Risk Reduction under Sendai Framework for Voluntary Commitments to evolve a Tool that will evaluate the probability of survival post occurrence of a natural hazard. Their research is now completed.

The main cause of this low percentage can be attributed to lack of understanding related to performance of aging, and deteriorated structures to the forces of natural hazards. Newly constructed structures are designed for such forces. As they age, they deteriorate. Therein lies the zone of ignorance and a grey area. Researched techniques yield a good insight to eradicate the existing ignorance. 

Establishing Resilience

The research underlines the need to establish Resilience. Resilience is an all encompassing philosophy. An individual structure can provide Robustness implying the capacity to withstand a given level of stress. An individual structure can offer Redundancy by the ability to be substitutable.  The other two pillars of Resilience namely Resourcefulness and Rapidity arise from the overall regions capability to the natural hazards. Technology can provide solutions for Robustness and Redundancy. The general population will define resourcefulness and rapidity. Rules of the land guide the behavior and response of the general public. The government of the day in any country is capable of implementing laws. So the statement of the Secretary-General urging governments to enact laws offers a ray of hope to evolve a solution. 

Proactive Steps and Funding

Pro-active steps to identify absence of resilience is essentially required. Further designed rectification to restore resilience can remedy this situation. World over Funds are not budgeted for normal remedial interventions, so funds for Resilience enhancement is a dream, never to come true. 

Unless the governments of each country implements a law mandating enhancement of resilience, engineering research and recommendations will not solve the issue. Researchers and the Engineering fraternity can provide solutions under conditions which support such efforts. 

Conclusion

The increasing frequency and severity of natural hazards due to climate change demand urgent action to enhance the resilience of aging infrastructure. Governments must enact laws and provide necessary funding to ensure the long-term safety and robustness of critical structures. The collaborative efforts of researchers, engineers, and policymakers are crucial in developing and implementing solutions that can withstand the challenges posed by natural disasters.

About the author

Sachidanand Joshi is the Head of UBMS Research Group (URG). He has led over 2000 inspection, repair, and rehabilitation projects. Witnessing firsthand the damage and loss caused by zero maintenance, he became driven to develop a system to prevent such scenarios. This led to his focus on creating an Asset Management Program, an area lacking in India. For the past decade, he has passionately worked on implementing these programs within the Civil Engineering industry, conceptualizing projects, and leading his team through meticulous planning and research.

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