I am in the midst of assembling my fourth podcast, a discussion with Lars Watson, recently returned from a two month deployment to Puerto Rico. As part of the response effort after the devastation of Hurricanes Maria and Irma, you can tell that Lars himself has been deeply affected by the experience. To bear witness to survivors and to hear their stories of ongoing trauma strips away the emotional distance we often invoke to protect ourselves when faced with tragedy. It gets real, real fast.
Externalizing the impacts of disasters to the victims and survivors is what we tend to do now. When all hell breaks loose we expect that God and FEMA will fix it all up. In truth, however, much but not all of the post-disaster suffering impacts regular people least prepared to become survivors.
This can be avoided if we take a cradle-to-cradle approach to how we build and rebuild infrastructure and buildings. That means plan for them to resist events of a certain intensity AND plan for the quickest recovery once those intensity thresholds are crossed. It should be on us, when times are good, to make sure that our kids or future generations don’t have to bear these avoidable burdens
Don’t get me wrong, stuff will continue to break and episodes of chaos that hurt and kill people will always be part of being human. And yet, we can seriously accelerate how quickly we recover if we include shortest recovery time as one of the metrics we use to design infrastructure. And if we apply flexible and adaptable approaches to how we design and maintain resilient infrastructure it can cost the same or less with the same or better levels of service.