Jan 25th 2017 | Posted in P3/PPP by Kristin Gordon

A new year of natural disasters is off to an energetic start across the Unites States with recent news this month of tornadic activity taking lives and causing destruction in Georgia and other states in the Southern region.  Will 2017 exceed last year’s devastation totals?

Worldwide natural disasters caused $175 billion in damages in 2016. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, last year there were 15 weather and climate events with losses exceeding $1 billion each across the United States. These events included drought, wildfire, four inland flood events, eight severe storm events and a tropical cyclone event. These disasters carried a destructive price tag of $46 billion. This total was the second highest annual number of U.S. billion-dollar disasters, behind the 16 events that occurred in 2011.

From 1980–2016, the U.S. South/Central and Southeast regions experienced a higher frequency of billion-dollar disaster events than any other region. Losses during these disasters included physical damage to residential, commercial and government/municipal buildings, material assets within a building, time element losses, vehicles, boats, offshore energy platforms, public infrastructure and agricultural goods.

When a disaster occurs, communities must be rebuilt and survivors require reasonable care and attention.  Individuals affected by a natural disaster are dependent upon local, state and federal governments for aid and provision of resources. Sometimes governments may not have the ability to aid their citizens properly due to lack of funds. Public-private partnerships (P3) are an option.

P3s are an integral part of strengthening resilience, because they can help to increase efficiency and effectiveness in emergency management. When it come to  U.S. disaster management, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) embraces this connection between P3s and resilience. Today, FEMA is in better shape than ever with more resources, capabilities and capacities to deal with the range of emergencies.

The private sector can handle virtually any task related to emergency management, such as issuing warnings, facilitating evacuation or organizing food service. As a result, government may find that it no longer needs to perform certain services it would typically provide to the public, because private sector entities now fill those functions.

In June of 2016 torrential rainfall caused destructive flooding through many West Virginia towns, damaging thousands of homes and businesses. Over 1,500 roads and bridges were damaged or destroyed. The storm system also produced numerous tornadoes causing damage across several Ohio Valley states.

Damage costs from the June 23 floods reached $339.8 million, ranging  from FEMA housing help to rebuilding destroyed schools.

In October of 2016 Hurricane Matthew paralleled the Southeast coast from Florida to North Carolina causing widespread damage from wind, storm surge and inland flooding. The most costly impacts were due to historic levels of river flooding in eastern North Carolina where 100,000 homes, businesses and other structures were damaged. By Oct. 18, there were 2,179 people in emergency shelters, 2,521 home and businesses without power, I-95 and I-40 had reopened and it was predicted that rivers would fall below flood stages by Oct. 24. Flood damage in North Carolina reached $1.5 billion.

As several states continue to cleanup the damage left behind in 2016, others are taking preventative measures against future disasters by spending funds on businesses that will help safeguard their infrastructure. On Jan. 17, 1994, a magnitude 6.7 earthquake struck the San Fernando Valley region of Los Angeles, causing $41 billion in damages across the region.

The California Department of Transportation has spent nearly 30 years identifying and retrofitting some 12,000 state-owned bridges and overpasses. This seismic retrofit  involved wrapping old concrete columns in steel casing. Modifications of existing structures make them more resistant to seismic activity, ground motion, or soil failure due to earthquakes.

The city of New Orleans, which was crippled by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, is no stranger to flooding, and officials have ramped up efforts to prevent future water-related disasters. A Louisiana Coastal Master Plan was conceived in 2007 and is updated every five years to reflect the changing landscape due to rising sea levels.

The 2017 plan predicts that even if everything works as planned, 2,800 square miles of coast still could be lost in the next four decades, and about 27,000 buildings may need to be floodproofed, elevated or bought out, including about 10,000 in communities around New Orleans. That’s under the plan’s new worst-case scenario for sea level rise and subsidence.

The current cost is about $92 billion to carry the plan forward for another 10 years.

At every step of emergency management, from preparedness and mitigation, to response and recovery, P3s must work as a team with different levels of government. A strong partnership that is committed to disaster risk reduction can steer public demand towards materials, systems and technological solutions to build and run resilient communities.

SPI’s newsletters are excellent sources of news for contracting opportunities nationwide. Subscribe here.