Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Preventing Future Disasters

November 20, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

preventing future disasters 1

Superstorm Sandy was the stuff of nightmares — swaths of our region plunged into prolonged darkness, subway stations and roads submerged, and shoreline structures pushed around like toys.

Yet the scariest thing about Sandy may be that it could have been worse. Lots of people said that we needed to be better prepared and stronger for the next time, including William C. Golden and Paul Josephson. Instead of just talking, however, they formed the National Institute for Coastal and Harbor Infrastructure (NICHI).

NICHI is a nonprofit entity established to advocate for an expanded federal role in coastal climate adaptation. It’s comprised of nine board members, including elected officials, who are seeking ways to prepare the country for any possible future disasters by coalescing and directing the efforts of public and private institutions and groups in order to establish a federal interstate coastal and harbor infrastructure system. NICHI’s focus isn’t limited to the East Coast — they are looking out for the entire United States, as harsh weather along the shores could devastate so many different areas along the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, or Pacific Ocean. Attention is also paid to inland areas that border bodies of water.

NICHI’s board and advisory working groups are focused on the triple threat of sea rise, extreme storms, and aging infrastructure. Believing the pace of action to address them has been too slow, they have a three-pronged way to get things moving.

First, they advocate making large-scale and high-tech repairs rather than the current approach, which they deem a slapping of bandages on large wounds. Piecemeal repairs make an already aging infrastructure worse, NICHI contends, as instead of getting ahead of disasters, government merely plays games of catch-up. As the weather continues to intensify, prevention is better than recrimination and finger-pointing.

Second, NICHI contends that one agency should spearhead the large-scale fix, rather than having so many governmental and private groups acting unilaterally. Getting them all under one umbrella — exactly the right analogy when writing about weather disasters — should make efforts run more efficiently and smoothly by eliminating as much gear-slowing red tape as possible in such a huge undertaking.

preventing future disasters 2Third, large-scale funding must be secured, as was done with the Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways. Fortifying our coastlines and upgrading our infrastructure is not going to be cheap — it’ll likely cost billions of dollars.  For those people who advocate against these expenditures (and/or argue against the unfolding climate change), NICHI wonders, what would opponents say should a disaster break the current infrastructure, causing damage exponentially more than what could have been invested to prevent such a catastrophe?

NICHI’s plan requires unified government involvement, as coastline defense is too large a project to be successfully achieved by private enterprise and citizen efforts. That involvement carries with it a commitment to allocate the proper amount of funding, so that coastline infrastructures don’t continue to decay as was the case post-Sandy. Some glaring necessities have yet to be addressed, and in other cases, the affected communities have been fiscally devastated.

NICHI’s unified approach means that whether a coastline area has ducked much damage over the years or has been battered repeatedly, no area will be vulnerable because of eroding infrastructure. And we don’t end up boating where we used to drive our cars or walk down the street.

For more information, visit

By Michael Griffin

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