Thursday, October 1, 2009

Vulnerability of our society by Eric Blevins

September 22, 2009
Society’s Vulnerability to Natural Hazards

Natural disasters, including hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, forest fires, earthquakes, landslides, and volcanic eruptions, take a toll of human life and property every year. Unfortunately, much of the loss brought on by natural disasters is a consequence of poor environmental stewardship. Hillsides and mountains are deforested, leaving the soil unprotected; people build homes and towns on flood plains; villages are nestled up to volcanic mountains; and cities are constructed on known geological fault lines. A general human tendency is to assume that disasters happen only to other people in other places, and even if there is a risk, say of a hurricane striking a coastal island, many people are willing to take that calculated risk in order to enjoy life on the water’s edge. According to the author... One writer suggested that town zoning boards should create a stupid zone for such people. Other stupid zone locations would-be in the middle of 10-year flood plains, in highly flammable coniferous forests, on top of
earthquakes faults and valleys below dormant volcanoes. Interesting? Lifestyle choices such as refraining from exercise, overeating, driving fast, imbibing alcohol, climbing mountain
and so forth carry with them a significant risk of accident and death. Every year brings its list
of disasters and the toll in deaths and in the miseries of people left homeless. From a personal standpoint with all this, I must say that humans are going to do what they choose to do with their lives, because it is within their nature to do otherwise. The winter of 2005, I believe was an interesting experience for myself, because of how crippling snow and ice can be. Portland,
experienced a tough winter during the month of January. It snowed for one week, about 6-7 inch.
Then came the ice storm that blanketed the entire metro area. Transportation came to a standstill. I could not drive my car for a week, because my tires were iced in about halfway up the rims. People were walking everywhere using the middle of the street as their pathway to and from. I’m not a big fan of driving on ice anyway so it was ok for me. What is interesting was seeing how people used their creatively to move around. I saw skis and poles, ice skates, backpacks were being utilized to carry food and water, and a few snowmobiles when buy the house.

We were fortunate not to lose electricity, because that could have been ugly for not only me, but for many others the outcome was different. Parts of the city did lose power and I felt for them trying to keep warm. This was a learning experience for me. The question is though...What if Portland had an ice storm like the city of Montreal did in the recent past? Would others and I still have been able to endure and in brace it?

Thousands of citizens were stranded as icy runways and jets shrouded in frost shut down the Portland International Airport. The Federal Aviation Administration said Passengers were sent home or to hotels. But a few hundred slept at the airport, using blankets distributed by the Red Cross. Around Portland, car, bus and light rail travelers were also stranded for a second day in a row because of the ice and snow.
Crews scattered sand on major thoroughfares in Portland, but side streets were blocked by mounds of snow. Interstate 84 through the Columbia River Gorge from Troutdale to Hood River remained closed, and many other roads and highways were closed at various times because of ice, accidents and downed trees. Federal Express canceled all deliveries in the Portland area for the first time in at least a decade. The storm also led to broken water mains and power outages. More than 30,000 Portland General Electric customers were still without electricity snow also stopped a northbound Amtrak train overnight in Vancouver, Wash., across the Columbia River from Portland, Ore. The train eventually returned to Portland and the passengers waited for another Amtrak train to take them to Seattle. The Associated Press 2005
Ice Storm 2005 was decidedly puny in comparison to many of the cold and snow events in Portland's historic record, for example January of 1950, or the winter of 1968-69 .The winter of 1919-1920 is still a record-holder in some categories
Freezing precipitation has caused over 16 billion in property losses in the United States alone and accounts for 20 percent of all winter-related injuries. About 70% of these injuries result from vehicle accidents. The average victims susceptible to ice storms are males over 40 years old. (Rubber, Robert, and John Walsh, and Donna Charlevoix 2005)

Heavy ice accumulation can bring down trees and topples utility poles and communication towers. Consequently, ice storms can disrupt communication between cities for days on end as they lose power and proper means of transportation. Road surfaces become damaged as well. Bridges and overpasses have a tendency to freeze before other types of surfaces and thus increase the risk of traveling during ice storms. Building infrastructures are vulnerable as well. Pipes can freeze and burst in poorly insulated homes. Insured property losses from ice storm events in the U.S. average 326 million dollars per year in damages. The agricultural sector is punished by ice storms as well. Freezing temperatures can cause severe damage to citrus fruit, crops and vegetation with damages recorded as high as 1.6 billion dollars in total damages per agricultural season. (Rauber, Robert, and John Walsh, and Donna Charlevoix 2005)

Although there is no record of deaths per year due to ice storms, the affects of ice storms attribute to the total deaths per year equating to 47 deaths per year (U.S.) Ice storm damages are insurmountably high partly due to ice pillage. In perspective, the weight of ice on a power line for a 300 ft span of power lines that are 1" thick coated with 1/4 inch of ice, adds 117 lbs. of weight to the object. Coated with 1/2 inch, the added weight is 281 lbs, coated with 1", the added weight is 749 lbs and coated with 2", the added weight is 2248 lbs. For a 1500 foot span of power line the added weight of 2 inches of ice is 11242 lbs! Overall, Accumulations of ice can increase the branch weight of trees by 30 times its original weight. The average annual property damage loss in ice storms based on an 8 year period is 226 million dollars and accounts for about 60 percent of winter storm damages
Preventative Measures
The National Climatic Data Center's (NCDC) Research Customer Service Group collaborated with the U.S. Army's Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory (CRREL) to provide preventative steps in regard to freezing rain. Overall, Ice storms are economic catastrophes which can and have forcefully dismantled cities and parks and have capabilities of disrupting air and land transportation. Because of new technology, ice formation forecasts save our country 29 million dollars per year in damages while the Integrated Icing Diagnostic Algorithm saves 33.7 million dollars in plane damages per year (Keith C. Heidorn 2005)

With that being said, it is better to be pro active than re-active. If we learned anything from Hurricane Katrina, is that we can never be to ready for a storm, flood, or any natural disaster. What is so hard about creating“ready to go” storage just in case. If you know your region and history of your area, then your not in the dark.

Ice Storms: Beauty Amid Destruction.” Keith C. Heidorn.
Rauber, Robert, and John Walsh, and Donna Charlevoix. Severe and Hazardous Weather. Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company, 2005.

The Associated Press Ice storm grounds planes, closes roads in Northwest 2005 Retrieved 09 30-09

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