Increasing Natural Disaster Occurrence?

With the recent flooding in the Midwest & Southwest United States and the occurrence of devastating tornadoes in Texas, are we seeing more and more devastating natural disasters? Oftentimes, people in this part of the country say that, “if you don’t like the weather here now, wait 5 minutes.” This is often a poke at the seemingly constant change of weather in the area, but is there more to it?

Yes, in a simple answer. According to the EM-DAT International Disaster Database, Center for Research on Epidemiology of Disasters, University of Louvain, the occurrence of geophysical disasters has increased three-fold in the first decade of the millennium when poised against the 80’s decade. According to The New England Journal of Medicine, “natural disasters, particularly floods and storms, will become more frequent and severe because of climate change. Organized deadly onslaughts against civilian populations will continue, fueled by the availability of small arms, persistent social and political inequities, and, increasingly, by a struggle for natural resources. These events affect the mortality, morbidity, and well-being of large populations. Humanitarian relief will always be required, and there is a demonstrable need, as in other areas of global health, to place greater emphasis on prevention and mitigation. ”

So what can we do as engineers to mitigate these disasters? Our calculations and designs are already very conservative. What more can be done to protect the citizens in which we serve? It appears that the inadequate calculations used in the past have not been able to keep up with the rate of devastation caused by these superstorms. As the trend continues, engineers like myself will have to constantly monitor our systems to insure that they have not become antiquated and continue to “Hold paramount the safety, health and welfare of the public and shall strive to comply with the principles of sustainable development in the performance of their professional duties. ” (From the ASCE Cannon of Ethics).

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