Disasters Occurring Weeks Before 9/11 – Lessons and Actions

Lessons To Be Learnt and Actions To Be Taken From Disasters Occurring Weeks Before 9/11/2011:

As we approach the 10th year anniversary of 9/11 terrorist disaster event the U.S. public can take satisfaction in the fact that all government agencies and executive leadership learnt valuable lessons from the tragic events of that day in 2001 and took bold and effective actions at home and abroad to prevent and cope with human and economic losses from such man-made disasters.

Hurricane Irene: Breaking Route 12 in 5 places, Hatteras Island, NC
Man-made disasters are entirely unpredictable compared to natural disasters which are being constantly tracked by some of U.S. federal agencies effectively (such as USGS for earthquakes and NOAA for weather related and tsunami events).

However, there is obvious disconnect in agencies at all government levels to prepare for and respond to these extreme natural disasters in order to protect our communities, properties, businesses, and vital lifeline infrastructure assets (such as roads, bridges, tunnels, rails, and landmarks).

Keeping in view the impacts of the August 23, 2011 earthquake followed by Hurricane Irene that rocked and flooded the Eastern United States, I like to survey the readers to improving government agency preparedness and response for the protection of national lifeline infrastructure assets.

Please list up to 10 answers/recommendations related to:
– Lessons to be learnt (maximum 10)
– Actions to be taken (maximum 10)

Please provide your lists in the above two categories by making online comment to this blog post. Your feedback will be helpful if it is specific and useful for our executive branch of government and the U.S. Congress. If lifeline infrastructure protection requires investment for the right reasons then it will also create numerous jobs at home and will move U.S. sluggish economy at a faster pace.

(Photos: courtesy of Hely S. Gonzalez, Florida)

15 thoughts on “Disasters Occurring Weeks Before 9/11 – Lessons and Actions”

  1. Lessons from recent 2011 natural disasters on the East coast:

    1. If the odds of one particular disaster are once in a thousand years, it can happen tomorrow and within a few years. The name “probability” should not ease our understanding of “risk” and so our approach to it. Certainly, 2011 Hurricane Irene showed that to people in Vermont.
    2. We have to be in a constant state of “readiness”. Comprehension of the above item 1 lesson would automatically lead us to this.
    3. Disasters are a part of the world and environment we live in. They are the whining, crying and yawning of Mother Nature very much the same way a rainbow is the smile of it. We have to be in such a mindset that we would embrace disasters with the same peace of mind as when we are delighted by the beauty of a rainbow.

    I recommend the following actions:

    1. Countrywide drills for the communities’ and agencies’ preparation for coping with earthquake disasters and risk reduction.
    2. Pre-disaster mitigation planning to protect both communities and infrastructure.
    3. Interagency coordination for emergency response and web based volunteer organizations on regional and community levels for disaster mitigation.
    4. Sufficient federal funding to state and local government agencies to protect nation’s key lifeline infrastructure.
    5. Re-calibration and updates of river flood models and extreme events’ impacts on bridges and the built areas.
    6. Periodic monitoring of river bed sedimentation level changes and maintenance of river channel beds.
    7. Modernization/revision of disaster risk maps for earthquakes, flood/hurricane, and tornado.
    8. Improvement in land use planning considering updated flood risk maps.
    9. Enforcement of flood protective building design and construction.
    10. Research and studies on a system of canals and reservoirs for storing and conveying excessive flood water from overflowing rivers to drought areas.

  2. Lessons to be learnt:
    1. I believe that one major lesson to be learnt from the earthquake on August 23, 2011 is that the government can not simply assume that because it is not likely an earthquake will occur in the northeast therefore they should not have a plan of action in case it does occur. Obviously the government made this assumption because there seemed to be chaos after this earthquake since no one knew what to do or even what exactly was going on. There were many complaints from citizens about this issue.

    2. A lesson to be learnt about the hurricane that occurred the following weekend would be for the people rather than the government. I believe that the government did a pretty good job in trying to warn the public of the oncoming storm, but quite of the people chose not to listen. This is not something that the government can control completely.

    Actions to be taken:
    1. The government should consider some sort of earthquake preparedness program for the entire country. The fact that an earthquake occurred in such an unlikely area shows that everyone should be prepared for this. There should be a specific plan of action when it comes to earthquakes, and the little web link that was sent to Ole Miss students is simply not enough. We already have a plan of action for other extreme weather such as tornadoes, why not earthquakes?

    2. The action to be taken after Hurricane Irene would have to be left to the public to listen a little more when warnings are issued from the government agencies. This seems to be the best action to be taken in order to allow the steps taken by the agencies to be most effective. If this would have occurred before Irene made landfall, some of the injuries or fatalities could have been avoided.

  3. Lessons:

    1. Communication outages may occur. This may make it difficult to locate those in need of the most help. Be aware that this may happen. Do not call 911 to tell them the disaster has occurred, they already know.
    2. Roadways may be affected enough that you can not cross them. Have alternative routes available in case this is necessary.
    3. Banks and ATMs may be affected. Have readily available cash on hand in order to cope with this.
    4. Make sure your home and property are properly covered by insurance riders such as earthquake and flood. Make sure that any possible disasters in your area are covered in your home insurance policy.
    5. National and possibly international assistance is important to recover quicker.
    6. Teamwork is key, you must work together in order to get things done. Help your neighbor out.
    7. Be patient. It will take time for everything to get back to the way it was before the disaster.
    8. Replacement supplies may be tough to locate. Have backups and be prepared before it happens.
    9. Replacement housing should be near the location of the former community. This provides a sense of security to those affected.
    10. Before the disaster occurs, express how it may change the lives and livelihood of those involved. This may have a greater impact and will help them decide to evacuate.

    Actions to take:

    1. Be proactive. Leadership is key in times like this, someone needs to take charge and direct the others.
    2. State and local government agencies need to communicate better with the US Federal Agencies and vice versa.
    3. The US Federal Agencies need to send the info they know in practical ways. Government wants to know facts, not reasons behind them.
    4. Help may be sought and need to come from all around the world when responding to any natural disaster. People need to realize that their contributions will be very appreciated.
    5. Prepare for the worst. Government agencies and companies that will respond to the natural disasters need to be ready for anything.
    6. There must be cooperation between the government and the US Federal Agencies, without an understanding between the two bodies, no action will be completed.
    7. Once the disaster alert information is passed onto the Government, it is their job to inform the public on how to respond and what to do to keep safe.
    8. Appropriate housing needs to be offered to those that were affected, this housing should be secure, safe, and up to standards.
    9. Pubic awareness is important. This must be top on the priority list of government agencies. Even if you think the public is well informed enough, they are not. The impact of natural disasters on the lives of people is underestimated, this needs to brought out into the light.
    10. Plan for the next event, talk about it to the public and make sure everyone is clear on what to do when it happens. Post-disaster investigations should be conducted on urgent basis to see the lessons learned and improve on for the next time to better protect communities and infrastructure.

  4. Lessons to be learnt:
    1. Just because you feel that something of this magnitude could never happen in your area doesn’t mean that the possibilities should be ignored.
    2. Disasters such as these happen almost daily on a small scale around the world, and these small scale disasters could be valuable assets in learning how to prepare.
    Actions to be taken:
    1. Develop a group of engineers/infrastructure experts to conduct disaster preparedness exercises using smaller scale storms throughout the world to develop appropriate actions in response to these disasters.
    2. Develop a group of experts assigned to examine previous disasters and learn from the mistakes made
    3. Implement small classes and educational sessions for small town and big city disaster relief agencies and first responders to have these emergency officials better prepared to immediately respond to disasters of this magnitude.

  5. Lessons to be learnt:

    – That mother nature can hit anywhere any time and is unpredictable to a certain level.
    – Earliest detection and awareness is key.
    – Protection of the people and important structures are a must.
    – Flash floods can cause much more damage that experts predict.
    – Quick response to clean up allows the maximum ability to catch back up.
    – Early Identification of structural damage of buildings after an earthquake leads to faster fixes.
    – Informing the public and aiding in evacuation allows for the least amount of deaths.
    – Having an emergency plan and practicing this plan also allows for easiest evacuation.
    – Increasing the stregth of some structures such as bridges and buildings amonts to the least amont of damage.
    – Last, Awareness is key. Knowing whats coming how to handle it and how to avoid it is best. Many unexpected events can happen but a practiced plan for these unexpecteds leads to the best results.

    Actions to take

    – Create plans to give to cities for different types of events( evacations, protection,..).
    – Create technical expert groups to check and increase strength of structures that are most important in emergencies and for mobility.
    – Inform the public of the possible events that could occur so they become familiar and ready to cope.
    – Establish/train agencies for cities to inform the public of actions to take.
    – Encourage volunteer/service movement to help clean up and improve your surroundings.
    – Begin building to comply with the latest earthquake resistant and flood protective design codes.

    Many lessons are to be learned and many actions can be taken, but unexpected happens. Informing the people and helping take action are the two biggest ways to improve outcomes and reduce disaster impacts.

  6. Government preparedness is specifically difficult because there are so many types of possible disasters and limited resources where they occur. As for 9/11 attacks, the government should have immediately consulted with structural professionals to account for the damage which was done to the buildings,how to prevent,predict, and prepare for the possible collapse of the buildings, how to quickly, safely, and effectively evacuate people, and to ultimately understand the severity of the situation. This consulting may have effected the complete collapse of the towers and the lives lost inside them. There was little that the government could have done pre-9/11 to prevent the tragedy. As for natural disasters such as hurricane Katrina and Irene, I agree that although 9/11 could not have been scientifically predicted, natural disasters are annual. Hurricane Katrina was such a horrific disaster because much of the damage done to the gulf coast could have been spared. The levees should have been properly maintained and analyzed each year for water gaps, breaching, and other failure methods. The government should have understood the importance of sufficiently maintaining the walls enclosing New Orleans and taken steps to ensuring its condition. Other natural disasters like earthquakes are only mildly predictable. Scientist only know that they will eventually happen in a particular area. Government agencies need to inform citizens about where to go and what to do during an earthquake. Most casualties that occur from earthquake are from collapsing buildings. Earthquake prone areas should analyze building codes, older buildings, roads, and power lines to ensure the safest possible structure design can withstand certain forces of nature. In conclusion, the government should prioritize its disaster relief by including the necessary steps to being PRE-pared for such disasters.

  7. Government agencies are not as well prepared for disasters, natural or man-made, as they should be. September 11, 2001 should have really opened the governments eyes for having better security. One lesson to be learnt is to have higher levels of security in larger areas. When it comes to natural disasters a lesson from Hurricane Katrina would be when designing structures or barriers make them much stronger than what is thought to be sufficient. Government should have also learned by now to be prepared for any kind of disaster. A disaster could happen at any time and government agencies should be ready. Some actions that need to be taken are having places in each town prepared to house several thousand people incase homes are destroyed and power is lost. Agencies also need to take action along the east and be more prepared for earthquakes and hurricanes. They are clearly not prepared for any storms of great magnitude. Government should also provide secure locations in towns where people can go to be protected from: earthquakes, tornados, flood, or other natural disasters.

  8. -People need to learn that natural disasters are not something to play with, they can be very deadly
    -Infrastructure is not going to outlast all natural disasters
    -More precautions need to be made in order to ensure the safety of citizens
    -There needs to be better evacuation plans when there is prior information about the possibility of a natural disaster
    -FEMA needs to find a quicker way to deliver supplies after a natural disaster

  9. lessons to be learnt, and actions to be taken:
    – allocate federal spending to natural disaster relief
    – analyze infrastructure failure due to the aspects of different natural disasters and improve design for each scenario
    – have a large federal reserve of supplies readily available to assist in the aftermath
    – increase the availability, and response time of government and military agencies to assist after the disaster occurs
    – have a planned evacuation
    – establish nuclear power plants in less populated areas that are preferably not prone to large earthquakes
    – government agencies, banks, insurance companies, and individuals should take the time to prepare a backup of all important documents that could be lost
    – improve the reliability of the U.S. power grids
    – homeowners should carefully review all insurance regulations before purchasing insurance, and check what natural disasters are possible in the area and the coverage of their insurance
    – have a fleet of helicopters, and emergency response vehicles ready, and allocated to assistance with the disaster relief
    – homeowners should check the flood plane in their area
    – create laws that enforce insurance companies to offer flood insurance to people who live in flood prone areas, or areas right at sea level

  10. -When power fails during natural disasters, people should be aware of fallen power lines.
    -People should take caution when entering areas that are covered in water.
    -Authorities should be on high alert at all times, and have a proper plan for evacuation.
    -When natural disasters are predictable, people should evacuate as soon as possible to save lives.

    -Authorities need to make sure the people are aware of the dangers that can occur when disasters occur.
    -All infrastructures should be built or renovated to meet specified building codes.
    -Roads should be properly inspected for failure, especially in ares that water is covering the roads.
    -Drainage systems should be improved to carry excess water away from populated areas.
    -Infrastructures should be properly inspected on a regular basis.

  11. LIDAR for the Northeast (http://www.pobonline.com/Articles/Features/BNP_GUID_9-5-2006_A_10000000000001096784) is a project aimed at building a priori knowledge of where the susceptible (to major natural disasters – such as coastal erosion and flooding from storm events) areas are. I believe it is a very good attempt at collecting topo data to help construct a more accurate height model which can then be used for hydrologic and coastal modeling.

    Perhaps this type of data collection around the watercourses in the inland areas along these methods would be prudent.

    1. Thank you for this valuable information.
      Please look at the blog post of September 24, 2011 for more info on current FEMA’s map modernization program. It is not clear whether all the federal efforts and millions of dollars of funds in recent years are focused to convert the old paper flood plain maps to scanned digital maps or any modern remote sensing airborne LIDAR topo data are being used to produce more accurate terrain elevation maps and 100- and 500-year flood plain maps. This is the first step in accurate flood prediction workflows.

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