Thursday, January 14, 2010

Disaster Planning

As many of you know, the nation of Haiti is facing a horrendous natural disaster of historic proportions. The current crisis of finding survivors, creating infirmaries, finding food, water and housing the displaced will be ongoing crisis for the next couple of weeks.

While I most certainly send my sincerest hopes and prayers that Haiti can overcome their most immediate crisis as quickly as possible, I wonder about what will be the fate of Port Au Prince, one year from now, five years from now and ten years from now. There are a lot places around the globe that have been impacted by natural disasters and have chosen not to rebuild because of the staggering costs of repairs. More recently, the location of development that are prone for natural disasters has come into question, leaving many government officials and the public wondering if the development should be rebuilt at all.

Haiti does not have that option. Even though the infrastructure to their capital has been destroyed they do not have the option of abandonment. Port Au Prince was not only the capital but also the hub of government services for the entire nation. Port Au Prince was also Haiti’s largest city that made it the commercial, industrial and social hub of the nation as well. The city has to be rebuilt…but how?

The city will need planners to come up with an immediate disaster plan along with a new Master Plan for rebuilding and growth for the future. Part of the reason why this disaster is so catastrophic is that there was no Master Plan in the city to begin with and growth occurred anywhere and everywhere haphazardly. Now whether a city with a weak central government can enforce that Master Plan is another story. However there are more than a few cities in developing plan that have been able to control growth and development through a Master Plan. And right now, Port Au Prince does not have a choice, in order to save the future of the city and perhaps the nation, a Master Plan is needed to sort out the chaos and shock of a complete government breakdown and destruction.

The immediate concerns are that the city needs everything right now. But when the immediate crisis is over, be it months or years from now there will have to be a plan on what, when and how the city will be rebuilt. There is no functional starting point to build off of right now in Port Au Prince. Do you rebuild housing first to shelter a city where all the residents have been displaced. Or do you focus on rebuilding stores since there is nowhere for people to buy food, clothing or cleaning supplies. Or do you rebuild the hospitals first? And in what order do you rebuild government buildings, schools and job sectors? All of these questions must be in accordance of a disaster plan and a future Master Plan.

The city cannot be rebuilt all at once. There are certain segments of the city that planners and residents are going to have to choose to rebuild first. The city will have to be rebuilt at a segment at a time, block-by-block, neighborhood-by-neighborhood at a time in accordance to a plan. If the city rebuilds in a piecemeal fashion then there will be properties in the city that will be left as unstable rubble for years and decades by property owners who cannot afford to rebuild or have gone missing.

There will also be some hard questions that planners and residents of the city will have to face in rebuilding the city. There is going to be questions of whether a city on a major fault line should be rebuilt. Because of that question, the city cannot rebuild in the same pattern and function as it did before the earthquake. While many who rebuild may not be able to have expensive earthquake retrofitted buildings like in Los Angeles and Tokyo, new building standards can be set in place to reinforce concrete construction with steel. If this cannot be done for all construction it should at least occur in major government institutions, hospitals and schools.

Other questions the city will have to face is whether construction should be allowed on the hill tops closest to the fault line. Housing construction on the hill and mountaintops would not only be a potential hazard it has also contributed to deforestation, which has also contributed to massive flooding. The placement of the city’s transportation infrastructure may have to relocate. While the airport only received moderate damage, the blockages to this vital transportation hub has made it almost impossible to deliver resources to the rest of the city. These ports in the future will need to be isolated and not located in the heart of the city. Lastly, what will the city do with the tons of crushed concrete slabs? What took generations to build by piecemeal will not have to be cleared in a massive fashion.

All of these questions are all apart of major disaster planning and city master planning that has to be addressed soon. Without a plan on how to redevelop the city’s current plight and its future reconstruction, the city will not be able to recover by piecemeal construction.

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