In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy (and even before), we’ve been posting about the need for an entity similar to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) that would identify the root causes for natural disasters. Such an agency could develop recommendations that would reduce a recurrence of similar disasters in the future, much as the NTSB does now for air-, rail-, highway-, and pipeline accidents.
Well, it turns out that some NTSB recommendations already cross the line into the realm of natural hazards, at least indirectly. Thursday’s print edition of The Washington Post carried a story on the NTSB’s “most-wanted list” for this year. Normally, the annual NTSB compilation of desired improvements focuses narrowly on its remit, emphasizing issues such as our need to cut back on smartphone use while driving, quick adoption of emerging collision avoidance technologies, etc.
[You can find the NTSB press release here; both the release and the Post article are worth reading in their entirety.]
But this time around, NTSB Chair Deborah A. P. Hersman added a plea that our nation, though strapped for funds as a result of the 2008 financial sector meltdown and its aftermath, not skimp on maintaining the safety of critical infrastructure such as bridges, roads, the aviation system, and pipelines. Estimates vary, but suggest that the U.S. is under-investing in such infrastructure maintenance – at levels $100B-$300B below the levels needed to maintain the electrical power grid, surface transportation, and water and sewage systems. Some say that the impact of this shortfall will be to shift the funding requirement to the fifty states, whose budgets are even more straitened.
This may seem like a great deal of money. But the maintenance of such critical infrastructure has implications not just for accidents but also for community resilience to natural hazards. Ensuring our infrastructure is more robust would not only provide a welcome short-term stimulus to the economy, but save a lot of future pain and suffering – and much larger unbudgeted losses – over the longer term.
Putting people to work now…and reducing the number of Katrinas and Sandys in our future?
Might be a good trade.