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How We Can Strengthen America's Infrastructure Against Future Natural Disasters
Communication and Utility Infrastructure
In the wake of rising sea levels and more aggressive weather systems, it is clear that America’s sewage systems, water treatment systems, and flood control systems need to be upgraded. Structural and non-structural designs need to be addressed, and all infrastructure systems must be designed to protect the natural environment and withstand both natural and man-made hazards.
However it won’t just be the big things. Hurricane Sandy proved that a disaster can also cripple communications and information systems. As such, telecommunications systems, such as cable TV, cell phones, and Internet systems will all need more secure and elaborate infrastructure installations.
The EPFL School of Engineering has developed a smart communication infrastructure system that can be quickly deployed after a disaster. Known as the Swarming Micro Air Vehicle Network (SMAVNET), it is a group of flying robots that create a communication network for rescuers. Unlike traditional city communication systems (which can be hampered or destroyed by disasters), the robots are able to overcome difficult terrain to provide line-of-sight communication so ground rescuers can contact each other and bases of deployment.
Urban Transportation Infrastructure
Because of the US’s car-heavy culture, streets and highways are essential transportation conduits, so their maintenance and improvement will continue to remain an important challenge. However in order to cut the country’s emissions, alternative transportation systems such as mass transit, bicycling, and walking will all have to be encouraged and supported.
New York has a great public transportation network, although its extensive subway system was completely incapacitated due to flooding from Hurricane Sandy. Fortunately, the Department of Homeland Security has devised a giant inflatable plug that could mitigate flooding issues in the future. The 32-by-16-foot plugs are just prototypes for now, but with enough preparation they could be placed in subway tunnels and inflated, keeping water out like enormous bathtub stoppers.
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