Disaster expert: Why power outages, transportation issues likely to stay in the dark

November 13, 2012  

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Superstorm Sandy and the approaching winter season are reminders that communities have a choice: pay in advance to improve energy and transportation networks that are vulnerable to disaster or risk future power outages and infrastructure disruptions, says a Purdue University disaster recovery expert.

"The United States simply hasn't invested in maintaining and upgrading the critical energy and transportation networks that are vulnerable to disaster," said Daniel P. Aldrich, an associate professor of political science. "Due to the political realities in which politicians find it easier to spend after disaster and not before, we have underinvested in our networks."

Aldrich says one obvious solution to the regular loss of power in Washington, D.C., and Maryland during storms would be to bury power lines as many other areas do.

"But the additional costs for taxpayers seem politically unfeasible, so you have reoccurring long periods with no power when disaster strikes," Aldrich says. "While there are high costs of implementing such projects in advance, these power outages have tremendous costs that cover spoiled food, time away from work and closed schools, as well as potential life-threatening consequences."

Aldrich, who is author of "Site Fights: Divisive Facilities and Civil Society in Japan and the West," has studied how communities successfully mobilize to prevent construction of unwanted facilities such as nuclear power plants, airports and landfills. Residents, especially those who have experienced power outages from storms this summer and Sandy and are concerned about severe winter weather, may be motivated to ask their civic leaders to redirect resources to support power and transportation infrastructure.

"There is an incredible cost, and the payoff is not visible every day, so it would take a strong grassroots effort to spark this change," Aldrich says. "But as these disasters seem more frequent and climate change concerns continue to grow, people and communities are more at risk."

Aldrich, who is author of "Building Resilience: Social Capital in Post-Disaster Recovery," has studied evacuation, disaster recovery and community rebuilding following Hurricane Katrina, the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami in Tamil Nadu, the 1923 earthquake in Tokyo, and the 1995 earthquake in Kobe, Japan.

Writer: Amy Patterson Neubert, 765-494-9723, apatterson@purdue.edu

Source: Daniel Aldrich is on fellowship in Tokyo and is available by email, phone and Skype. The best way to reach him is daniel.aldrich@gmail.com

Related news release:
Daniel P. Aldrich

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