We're not yet prepared for next big disaster
Severe storms, floods, droughts, freezes and wildfires struck the United States 16 separate times with billion-dollar disaster events in 2017. What have we learned? More importantly, what are we doing to prepare for the next natural disaster? We need only look to our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico to see why these questions are so important.
National Infrastructure Week, May 14 to 21, gives us a chance to check in to see how well we are doing.
There is a lot of good news. From transportation, telecommunications and energy systems to our water and sewer infrastructure and health care facilities, emergency response planning is under way. The past decade has seen important improvements in the Oregon and in the Portland metro area. Joint planning and exercises have dramatically improved the skills of our first responders. These efforts will help reduce the loss of life and speed response and recovery of critical infrastructure following the next big event.
Investments in new infrastructure — including roads, bridges, water and sewer systems, gas, electricity and telecommunications assets — are being made. These critical lifelines are now designed and constructed to stringent codes and engineering standards to make sure these systems are operational following the next event. And millions more are spent annually to improve existing infrastructure to make it safer and less likely to collapse when disaster strikes.
Finally, many of us have accepted the responsibility for personal and family preparedness by acquiring emergency kits, attending community emergency response training and preparing family response plans to be ready for the day critical lifelines aren't available.
We are in a race with time and nature. Regrettably, it is a race we are not yet winning. While people and organizations are trained and ready to respond, the difficult truth is that only a small amount of our public and private physical infrastructure is prepared.
Oregon's 2017 Legislature passed a $5 billion transportation package that will retrofit and replace bridges and roadways to address seismic and congestion problems. Tualatin Valley Water District and Hillsboro are investing $1.2 billion to bring a new and resilient water system online in 2026. Across the state, cities, counties and private industry are investing billions more.
The problem is, despite what we have done and spent, we are not yet doing or spending enough.
National Infrastructure week is a good time to ask tough and pointed questions of our leaders and ourselves. Is all the talk about coming disasters backed up by ongoing and consistent public and private investment? Are we fixing and building fast enough? Have we set clear benchmarks for improving our readiness and the resiliency of our infrastructure over a defined period of time? Are all our families prepared?
I'm not willing to accept "no" for answer. Are you?
Mark Knudson is the CEO of Tualatin Valley Water District.
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