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Communities Must Focus on Infrastructure Resiliency to Weather Uncertainty

2020 has been challenging for the entire world in a wide variety of ways. But while the news cycles are full of stories about the election, COVID-19, economic challenges and major weather events, communities’ efforts across the United States are still underway to design, operate, maintain, and replace critical infrastructure and improve resiliency.

In the city of Crystal, Minn., 2020 was a big year from a critical infrastructure standpoint and shows that while there is a lot of uncertainty in the world, cities still have an essential need to invest in critical infrastructure so that it continues to provide uninterrupted essential services for the community. This was made even more apparent in communities where stay-at-home orders were issued in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Because public works does a good job of providing reliable infrastructure, such as water and wastewater, there was no hesitation by public and private sector officials to trust the ability of existing infrastructure to support the transition of people into the virtual environment within their own homes.

While 2020 has had a lot of bad news, it is important to note that local and state governments still have invested proactively in mitigation measures so that the long-term resiliency of the community is improved.

Here are some examples of actions taken by the City of Crystal:

  • In an effort to continue to build redundancy into critical infrastructure communications, fiber optic communication was connected to both a water tower and sanitary sewer lift station. These fiber lines supplement other communications, such as cradle point cellular and radio, to provide for consistent and redundant communication systems. The ability of staff to monitor the operation of these critical facilities and be able to respond quickly when problems arise is essential in minimizing the risk of cascading impacts. When stay-at-home orders were in place, one of the major risks of cascading impacts was potentially compromising someone’s home with a situation such as a sewer backup.
  • The city continued its efforts to provide permanent backup power to critical infrastructure and added a generator at a sanitary sewer lift station. More than 50 percent of the city’s sanitary sewer lift stations now have permanent backup power installed. Previously, staff used quick connectors to plug into portable, trailer-mounted generators and had to run them between various pump stations during larger power outage events.
Communities Must Focus on Infrastructure Resiliency to Weather Uncertainty Homeland Security Today
Permanent backup power and fiber optic communications were installed at additional critical infrastructure facilities.
  • From a transportation standpoint, 6.25 miles of city streets (approximately 7 percent) were milled and overlaid. Included with this project was the replacement of utility rings that had exceeded their normal lifecycle. This pavement replacement process provided a new, smoother asphalt street that not only looked better, but improved ride quality and reduced the potential for damage to vehicles driving on the road. Sidewalk trip edges were ground down and pedestrian ramps improved to improve the walkability and accessibility of the city’s sidewalk network.
  • 2020 was the first year of construction as part of the city’s long-term utility reconstruction program. The Utility Reconstruction Program is planned to last well over 100 years to replace all sanitary sewer and water mains in the city. Nearly one-half mile of street was reconstructed in 2020. Reinvesting in a city’s utility infrastructure is essential to the long-term health and viability of the community. The reconstruction program is very much a long marathon that will last generations. But like any marathon, it starts with a first step, and even in the face of COVID-19 and its uncertainty elected officials still were willing to take that first step and start the process of talking about infrastructure and following up with action in authorizing construction.
  • As part of the continued storm water management efforts in the city, a sixth underground storm water infiltration system was constructed. This most recent system (over 250,000-gallon capacity) is located in a heavy commercial area that has little impervious surface to reduce or infiltrate runoff. Due to the volume of water that needs to be managed during major rain events, challenges still exist. The city is maximizing every opportunity to provide for storm water retention, detention, or infiltration as that is the only way that overall success in addressing the capacity issues will be achieved.
Communities Must Focus on Infrastructure Resiliency to Weather Uncertainty Homeland Security Today
Construction of additional underground storm water infiltration tank improving storm water quality and reducing surface flooding.
  • On the storm water management front, the city started work on a Level 2 storm water model of the central core of the city where the majority of FEMA floodplains are. Through this effort, problem areas will be identified so that future mitigation efforts can be planned.
  • On top of all the 2020 construction projects, public works continued in its normal maintenance efforts that also have mitigation components such as jetting sewers (reduce potential for backups), sweeping streets (remove debris that may clog storm water facilities), and other seemingly routine tasks.

I fully realize that this is only one city’s actions, but with all the challenges that everyone is facing it is important to be reminded that cities are taking proactive actions when it comes to security and resiliency for critical infrastructure.

Even in the face of the COVID-19 uncertainty, we must continue to move forward with investments in infrastructure. Infrastructure investment is tied directly with community resiliency and we must not lose sight of that big picture with all that is going on. As we have seen this year when infrastructure is compromised, the cascading impacts have been made even more challenging as a result of COVID-19.

Mark Ray
Mark Ray is passionate about the public works profession and the essential role it plays in designing, constructing, operating, and maintaining critical infrastructure. Public works professionals make normal happen in the community they serve and securing critical infrastructure from all hazards, both human or natural caused, requires a team effort between public works and homeland security stakeholders. Mark is committed to furthering collaboration and understanding between various groups in service to the collective goal of securing critical infrastructure that is vital to our nation. In his professional role, Mark is currently the Director of Public Works/City Engineer for the City of Crystal, MN. Mark has his undergraduate degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a Master’s in Public Administration from Hamline University, and has completed the Executive Leaders Program through the Center for Defense and Homeland Security at the Naval Post Graduate School. Mark currently is the chair of the State, Local, Tribal, and Territorial Government Coordinating Council (SLTTGCC which represents the American Public Works Association on the National Homeland Security Consortium (NHSC), and serves on the Hennepin County Emergency Management’s Strategy Council. Mark is the founder of the Hennepin County Public Works Emergency Management Group and has spearheaded the development and adoption of the Minnesota Statewide Public Works Mutual Aid Pact. Mark is also the former chair of the American Public Works Association’s Emergency Management Committee and has written over 20 published articles on a wide range of topics; including themes around public works, homeland security, and resiliency. Mark has received a numerous national awards and recognitions from groups including American Public Works Association, National Weather Service, American Infrastructure Magazine, and Homeland Security Today. One of Mark’s mottos is “Actions speak louder than words” and it is with that approach that Mark is committed to actually doing things and supporting efforts to secure critical infrastructure from all hazards.

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