Infrastructure

  • Electromagnetic disaster could cost trillions and affect millions. We need to be prepared

    In 1962, a high-altitude Pacific nuclear test caused electrical damage 1,400 km away in Hawaii. A powerful electromagnetic pulse (EMP) – created either by a solar storm or a high-altitude nuclear explosion — poses a threat to regions dependent on electricity, as such pulses could cause outages lasting from two weeks to two years. The main problem is the availability of spare transformers. Superstorm Sandy’s worst effects were in a single location. In the case of a big EMP surge, replacement transformers would be needed in hundreds of locations at the same time. The cost of an EMP pulse to the U.S. economy would likely be in the range of $500 million to $2.6 trillion. A report by the U.S. National Academies was even more pessimistic, guessing at a higher range and a multi-year recovery. Besides disrupting electricity such storms can also destroy satellites, disrupt GPS navigation, and make other parts of the infrastructure fail.

  • Home Depot faces lawsuit over Joplin, Missouri tornado deaths

    Home Depot is being sued in a wrongful death lawsuit by a woman who lost her husband and two children during a 2011 tornado in Joplin, Missouri. Edie Housel is contending that Home Depot is responsible for the death of her family due to the improper construction of the Home Depot store in which the three — along with five other people — were killed.

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  • Erosion research could guide new preservation techniques

    Visitors to the Western Wall in Jerusalem can see that some of its stones are extremely eroded. This is good news for people placing prayer notes in the wall’s cracks and crevices, but presents a problem for engineers concerned about the structure’s stability. Research could guide development of new preservation techniques for weakened structures.

  • Electric bugs harnessed to detect water pollution

    Scientists have developed a low-cost device that could be used in developing countries to monitor the quality of drinking water in real time without costly lab equipment. The sensor contains bacteria that produce a small measurable electric current as they feed and grow. The researchers found that when the bacteria are disturbed by coming into contact with toxins in the water, the electric current drops, alerting to the presence of pollutants in the water.

  • Texas coastal areas still unprepared for disaster

    When Hurricane Ike struck Galveston, Texas in 2008, leaving billions of dollars in damages and at least 100 people dead, residents knew that they were underprepared. Experts say that Texas coastal residents still are. Unlike Louisiana and New York after Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, Texas has not developed a plan to protect its coast, and the state has failed to seek the same level of federal funding after Ike as the two other states sought after their hurricanes.

  • Rockefeller Foundation, USAID launch new Global Resilience Partnership

    The new initiative, funded with $100 million from the Rockefeller Foundation, aims to institute a new model for solving the interrelated challenges of the twenty-first century such as persistent and often extreme poverty, food insecurity, and climate shocks. By better aligning humanitarian and development planning, connecting the private sector with civil society and government, and crowdsourcing innovations and solutions, the Resilience Partnership will enable communities to prepare for, withstand, and emerge stronger from shocks and stresses in a way that reduces chronic vulnerability and keeps them on the pathway to development.

  • Key U.S. coastal areas bracing for greater sea level rise challenges

    While climate change-related sea level rise is predicted to impact much of the country — whether directly or indirectly — over the next several decades, certain parts of the nation’s coasts are expecting to deal with more unique and intensive challenges.

  • N.C. science panel begins updating sea level rise report

    North Carolina officials announced last week that the state-appointed science panel supported by the Coastal Resources Commission(CRC) has begun updating a controversial 2010 sea-level rise report. The CRC oversees development in North Carolina’s twenty coastal counties. In May, the CRC votedto narrow the scope of the pending report to reflect the effects of sea-level rise for the next thirty-years, as opposed to the original timeframe of 100 years in the 2010 report. “I think the concept of doing it for 30 years will add credibility to the study,” Frank Gorham, the CRC’s chairman, said last Thursday. “People can think in 30-year timeframes.”

  • Training cyber security specialists for U.S. critical cyber infrastructure

    Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is joining Bechtel BNI and Los Alamos National Laboratory to train a new class of cyber defense professionals to protect the U.S. critical digital infrastructure. The Bechtel-Lawrence Livermore-Los Alamos Cyber Career Development Program is designed to allow the national labs to recruit and rapidly develop cyber security specialists who can guide research at their respective institutions and create solutions that meet the cyber defense needs of private industry. About 80 percent of the nation’s critical digital infrastructure and assets are owned and operated by private industry.

  • Toledo’s water alarm harbinger of things to come

    This past weekend, officials in Toledo, Ohio urged residents and the several hundred thousand people served by the city’s water utility not to drink tap water after discovering elevated levels of microcystin, a toxin caused by algal blooms, in their water supply. Toledo’s water supply has since returned to normal, but nutrient enrichment and climate change are causing an apparent increase in the toxicity of some algal blooms in freshwater lakes and estuaries around the world, scientists say.

  • U.S. to impose stricter safety rules on crude oil rail shipment

    The U.S. Department of Transportation(DOT) recently announced proposed rulesbetter to secure train cars and pipelines from oil spills that may lead to fire or accidents in communities across the country. The spills are byproducts of the increase in U.S. oil production and shipments coming from Canada or the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota. The proposed DOT rules would force railroads to upgrade railroad cars used for transporting crude oil, employ better braking systems, and enforce tighter speed controls.

  • Encouraging innovation for better preparedness, recovery, and resilience tools

    Last week the White House hosted innovators in technology and emergency management to discuss new tools that can improve preparedness, recovery, and resilience in the wake of a disaster. The White House Innovation for Disaster Response and Recovery Initiative Demo Dayshowcased innovations from the private sector and government agencies aimed at aiding survivors of large-scale emergencies. The key goal was to “find the most efficient and effective ways to empower survivors to help themselves,” said U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park.

  • Kansas, Missouri invest in tornado safe-rooms

    Last year’s tornado season prompted officials in Kansas and Missouri to invest heavily in safe rooms to shelter residents from future severe weather events. Schools tend to be popular choices for safe rooms, but new funding from FEMA is helping cities build safe rooms in other public spaces. The safe rooms are built to withstand tornado winds of up to 250 mph, and can survive being hit by a 67 mph projectile vertically or 100 mph horizontally.

  • New Bay Area hospital is constructed to withstand the most severe earthquake

    The new Stanford Hospital is being constructed to withstand the most severe tremors. The new hospital will be placed on 206 base isolators, enormous parallel steel plates with a sort of ball bearing suspension system between them, providing a buffer between the building and the moving ground. Each plate can move as much as three feet in any direction, allowing the building to shift up to six feet during seismic activity. Reducing horizontal movement during an earthquake minimizes the strain on a building’s vertical load-bearing structures. When completed, in 2017, the building will be one of the most seismically safe hospitals in the country, able to continue operations after an 8.0, or “great,” earthquake.

  • New rules proposed for crude oil shipments

    U.S Department of Transportation (DOT) secretary Anthony Foxx has announced that the department is proposing new rules for shipments of high-hazard crude oil by trains, as well as moving to phase out the use of older tank cars that many see as unsafe. The order follows a deadly year for oil train accidents, including a July 2013 derailment in Lac Megantic, Quebec resulting in the deaths of forty-seven people and a 30 April derailment in Lynchburg, Virginia.