Sept. 15, 2014 06:31

Help for Hurricane Recovery

help recovery

Listening to expectant parents talk about potential baby names is enough to make your head spin. How about William? What do you think of Jane? But there’s a reason they torture themselves, and anyone else within earshot, over that one little decision: no matter what that baby does, good or bad, its name is the thing that will be remembered.

Hurricanes are the same way. While we don’t celebrate hurricanes, at least not like new babies, we still christen these storms, nonetheless—Andrew, Katrina, Emily, Ivan. Like people, some are remembered and some are forgotten. If they’re remembered, though, it’s usually because of the tremendous damage that they caused.

To give you an idea, the four costliest hurricanes in our country’s history caused more than $260 billion in combined damages, and those storms occurred in just the last ten years alone. If you factor in the past few decades, or even the last century, that dollar amount soars to even more astronomical numbers.

Even years later, after lengthy and expensive recovery efforts, hurricane zones can still show evidence of past devastation. Far beyond damage to property is the human tragedy; many people lose their lives and many more are displaced.

Unfortunately, humans cannot prevent hurricanes; it’s just not in the cards. But that’s not to say we’re helpless. By reinforcing existing infrastructure, like seawalls, and correcting erosion from previous hurricanes, we can work toward recovery and hopefully keep further disaster at bay.

Most recently, Sandy—which was later downgraded to a ‘superstorm’— wreaked havoc on the northeastern United States. And while it’s not technically classified as a hurricane, it’s the second costliest storm in U.S. history, just behind Hurricane Katrina.

By many estimates, Sandy caused more than $70 billion in damages, the brunt of it along the New York and New Jersey shorelines. Entire boardwalks, piers and beaches washed right into the sea. Historic buildings were reduced to rubble, and family homes became debris.

The storm’s high sustained winds caused extensive damage to structures, particularly to seawalls and other protective structures. The resulting storm surge led to significant beach erosion. And to top things off, severe flooding ravaged inland areas, sweeping millions of pounds of debris and polluted stormwater right into the hubs of major cities.

In the aftermath, most seawalls either needed repairs or complete reconstruction. Sand also needed replenishment, since millions of yards were washed out to sea. If these protective measures weren’t undertaken, the entire coast would have remained exposed and defenseless to any future storms that make landfall.

Without these countermeasures, even a small storm could cause widespread damage to the already devastated region.

The good news is that disasters tend to bring us together and inspire us to rebuild even better and stronger than before. After Sandy, the federal government allocated nearly $80 billion in recovery funds, with around $16 billion for new, stronger stormprotection systems and infrastructure.

You don’t need a calculator to understand just how much money that is. And while it’s unfortunate, we know that in times of disaster, there’s also a lot of money to be made. With your expertise, helping the recovery effort doesn’t just contribute to the community, it boosts your bottom line as well. And the best part is, with this new revenue stream, you know that your work is going to a good cause.

After Sandy, the Army Corps of Engineers worked extensively on the recovery effort. Their mission, especially after hurricanes, is to ensure the continuity of the nation’s infrastructure. And if it’s failing or damaged, their goal is to repair and fortify it.

Combating and preventing erosion is one of the first aspects of any storm recovery effort—and for the Army Corps of Engineers, it’s no different. Coastal erosion is problematic under normal circumstances. But add a hurricane to the mix and you’ve got a recipe for a long, drawn-out disaster.

“We placed close to about eight million cubic yards of sand on New Jersey’s shores to repair and restore them after Hurricane Sandy,” says Lynn Bocamazo, hydraulic engineer for the United States Army Corps of Engineers, New York District.

“By supplying material, like sand,” Bocamazo continues, “we’re able to reduce the effects of erosion. And when something like Hurricane Sandy comes along, or some other storms that we consider large or extraordinary, we replace sand which was eroded or taken away from the beach face and dunes.”

The Army Corps of Engineers does very little in-house work; they maintain few crews of their own. The vast majority of their work, says Bocamazo, goes out to contracters. “After measurement and analysis, we develop contract documents, plans and specifications, and go out to contract for all the projects. After Sandy, all of the North Atlantic Division, from Maine through Virginia, was repaired by outside contractors.”

Just because most of these contracts have already been completed doesn’t mean that you can’t participate in the bidding process the next time a major storm hits. “We have a competitive bidding process,” says Bocamazo. “We put out an invitation for bid, then we get sealed bids, and the low price bidder is the winner.”

That’s not to say that you should count the days until the next storm, but simple awareness can make a world of difference to your bottom line. Be there when the bidding starts and you can bet that you’ll have an advantage over your competition.

Not everyone was replenishing sand after the storm, however; some were busy removing it. Although entire beaches are sometimes lost to hurricanes, these storms also wash sand inland, which presents its own set of problems.

“The hurricane itself caused dune and beach erosion, and transported a lot of sediment inland. So you had communities all up and down the coast that had sediment and sand that washed into the streets where traffic would normally flow—three or four feet in some places. That all had to be cleaned up before any work with the soil could begin,” says John Ravert, director of technical services for East Coast Erosion Blankets, LLC., Bernville, Pennsylvania.

“And in many areas, the topsoil was buried by the sand,” Ravert added. “So they had to remove the sand in order to get vegetation reestablished in the topsoil come springtime.”

Vegetation is one of the first things swept away by a hurricane. And with that loss comes erosion—lots of it. For that reason, it’s essential to revegetate the area to offset future erosion. Native vegetation is best, since the plants know the climate and won’t struggle to acclimate themselves.

Before revegetating, however, much of the soil will need remediation. “After Sandy, plant material was dying because saltwater had washed into the landscape,” says Tom Canete, owner of Canete Landscape in Wayne, New Jersey. “Until we put in new plant material and amended the soils to remove the salt, there was no way we could revegetate the area.”

After revegetating, make sure to watch the weather. A new storm, or even just intense rain, could wash your work right down the drain. Planting during periods of calm weather can help to ensure that the new growth will survive past those early stages.

Once the weather has settled, getting those plants in the ground can begin a new growth process for revegetating a hurricane zone. It can prevent erosion from continuing to harm the region’s soils. Although it’s not the only solution, revegetation is, without question, a step in the right direction.

But hurricanes don’t just cause erosion. No, like thieves, they usually like to bring along a few friends. The flooding produced by a hurricane, for instance, leads to large amounts of runoff, much of which is toxic. These harsh pollutants remain long after the water recedes.

Rubble, sewage, excess soil and sediment, along with other toxic materials all wash into the landscape. These contaminants make recovery efforts, like revegetation, absolutely nightmarish. We’re not talking a few pounds of displaced dirt; this is millions of pounds of debris spread across the region.

To remove it is a slow and tedious process, says Canete. “I ran my roll-off, hauling dumpsters filled with debris, for a solid two weeks—all day long. It was a huge undertaking.”

“The Hudson River experienced a huge storm surge from Sandy. It took out an enormous chunk of the landscape; the water came up to at least eight to 10 feet. You could see debris mixed into everything—wood and branches, vegetation from the river, furniture, refrigerators.”

But don’t worry. It’s not all about repairs, removal and replenishment. There’s virtually endless opportunity for new construction. After a big storm, you can quite literally work from the ground up. So why not have a little fun with that freedom?

In fact, most of the specs you’ll receive will be new, for the most part, since each storm has its own set of unique problems. That means less worry about outdated specs from past engineers. If something doesn’t work for you, propose a change. Contacting the engineers responsible for the specs will likely be much simpler than what you’re used to.

Let’s face it, hurricanes aren’t easy to deal with—emotionally, physically or financially. They cost countless lives and can leave entire cities in ruins. But with each storm, big or small, we choose, nonetheless, to come together and rebuild. Call it the American spirit.

It’s that determination to recoup our losses, and that coming together that we should remember, not the storm’s name or the damage it caused. But for that memory to be the one that prevails, we have to commit to total recovery. And as we remove debris from the soil, add sand to the beaches, and build new infrastructure, we’ll see—with time and new growth, a hurricane’s name can stand for more than just disaster. It can stand for triumph over it.

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In many ways, we are fortunate that, in our chosen profession, we are able to help people when certain disasters occur: the tornadoes in Missouri, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Georgia, the flooding in Louisiana, the snows in the northeastern part of the country, the rain in California, and the snow in Colorado....

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