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Energy Efficiency: A Co-Benefit to Disaster Risk Reduction

Critical infrastructure failures are a climate risk multiplier. Research has demonstrated how dramatically the impact of hurricanes/tropical cyclones may increase over time, due to compound effects of changes in storms and heatwaves.

While we continue to learn lessons from recent natural hazards and their impact on critical infrastructure—like the electric grid and water systems—we are moving toward an environment of increased understanding and acceptance of modern sustainability and resilience concepts. 

Case studies out of Florida in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian provide evidence that individuals and communities were kept safe through the strength of their homes and the infrastructure that provided critical resources and services in those affected areas. Any national discussion of reducing damage from natural disasters, climate events, and protecting the environment must include disaster-resilient and sustainable construction and infrastructure. It does not need to be an “either/or” choice.

Many communities facing current known hazards still haven’t adopted modern hazard-resistant codes, despite the expectation that natural hazards will increase in frequency and severity in the years ahead. Between the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act, energy codes saw a $1.25 billion investment at a time when FEMA is providing less than $2 million annually to support resilient codes through its hazard mitigation grant programs. Without strong codes and standards, infrastructure will sustain avoidable damage, unable to realize climate benefits if they are damaged or destroyed because they were not constructed to withstand hazard risk. 

Critical infrastructure failures are a climate risk multiplier. Research has demonstrated how dramatically the impact of hurricanes/tropical cyclones may increase over time, due to compound effects of changes in storms and heatwaves. These infrastructure failures drive compounding hazards and life and safety impacts. An example of this dramatic impact was seen in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Fiona where over 100,000 people were still without power weeks after the storm made landfall,while the heat indices rose above 100 degrees. It is also important to note that “excessive heat during an extended power outage” was the cause of most deaths in Louisiana after Hurricane Ida, not the immediate impact of the storm.

Loss of electric service can also adversely impact other critical lifeline infrastructure systems, such as wastewater treatment and water transmission and distribution. Furthermore, power outages and compound hazards can significantly disrupt local business and supply chains, leading to secondary losses, and the enhanced connectivity of local and global economics potentially would further foster the impact.  

Energy efficiency and decarbonization can lead to co-benefits in disaster risk reduction. Disaster after disaster we see over and over again that the most at-risk communities are least likely to be able to evacuate, so making it safer to shelter in place and reduce emissions (e.g., better insulation to maintain interior temperatures when the power grid goes down) should be a priority. 

In conclusion, while contemplating energy efficiency, we must enhance disaster resilience across the nation through measures that would effectuate these policy ideals, changes in authority, development of incentives, and streamlining of assistance to serve our communities in an equitable and transformational way.

Natalie Enclade
Natalie Enclade, Ph.D. joined the BuildStrong Coalition as its Executive Director in 2021. Prior to joining BuildStrong, Enclade served as the Director of Individual and Community Preparedness for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). As Director, she oversaw programs that partner at all levels of government, the private sector, and community organizations to increase citizen and community preparedness and encourage the development of disaster resilience across the Nation. The BuildStrong Coalition is made up of a diverse group of members representing firefighters, emergency responders, emergency managers, insurers, engineers, architects, contractors, and manufacturers, as well as consumer organizations, code specialists, and many others committed to building a more disaster resilient nation.

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