The Effects of Recent Natural Disasters

The Atlantic hurricane season, which now begins as early as June 1 and lasts until November 30, is a constant reminder of how natural disasters can severely impact infrastructure.

Our road networks serve as vital life lines, enable the efficient transportation of economic resources, and sustain local economies. Natural disasters can quickly inflict significant damage, disrupting traffic flow and constraining local and national economies.

Thorough condition assessments become incredibly important for valuable insight into what the original condition of the road network was and what the extent of damage caused by natural disaster is. With accurate before and after data in hand, communities can prioritize projects, streamline the repair process, and allocate funds more effectively.

How severe can the damages from natural disasters be and how does having accurate data help?

The Effects of Recent Natural Disasters

In recent years, the amount of natural disasters and their intensity has been on the rise. Events like droughts, wildfires, and hurricanes have left communities exposed and in need of deep repairs.

Climate.GOV shared that 2022 alone was faced with 18 “billion dollar” natural disasters, meaning each caused at least $1 billion in damages and numerous fatalities. These statistics tied 2022 with 2017 and 2011 for the third-most amount of “billion dollar” disasters. 

Hurricanes Ian, Nicole, and Fiona hit between September and November of 2022. leaving communities with over $114 billion in damages to repair and 179 fatalities to mourn.

A tornado outbreak in March 2022 affected multiple communities after 90 different tornados swept over states including Arkansas, Mississippi, Florida, North Carolina, Iowa, and Pennsylvania. Six people were fatally injured. Overall, damages totaled $1.3 billion.

Multiple severe droughts and heat waves have affected states across the Western and Southern Plains, causing record breaking water shortage levels in numerous states – along with $22.2 billion in damages and 136 deaths.

These were just a few of the events communities around the country had to deal with. While a natural disaster can’t be fully prevented, they can be anticipated and approached with diligence.

Repairing and Preparing for the Future

While the severity and ramifications of natural disasters differ, the process for repair follows a similar process.

Fortunately, several disaster relief programs exist to assist local and state governments in addressing road repairs. In the United States, state Departments of Transportation (DOTs) offer relief programs, alongside the Federal-Aid Highway Emergency Relief Program facilitated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Under this program, states can receive an allocation of up to $100 million for a given disaster. If additional funds are required, approval from Congress can be sought to secure the necessary support.

No matter the kind of natural disaster, understanding the condition of assets like roads prior to the damage makes all the difference in receiving relief funding in a timely manner and minimizing long term consequences.

Unfortunately, just showing the damage after the fact may not be enough to receive adequate funding. 

Pavement Damage

To ensure your community will receive federal funding from FTA’s Emergency Relief Program, it should be able to show its infrastructure’s condition prior to and after a natural disaster. The location and condition of each road, for example, should be available in an objective and exportable format, just like that of RoadWay. Public Works officials have told RoadBotics by Michelin that without a prior assessment, they cannot fully prove or visualize the damage caused to the roads.

While working with over 300 communities, RoadBotics by Michelin’s automated road assessment technology has helped capture the data not only for pavement management plans, but also to help the community act swiftly when faced with an unexpected disaster. This preparation can help reduce the expense for road repairs and overall distress during difficult times.

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