A road is crumbling.
A major artery in your city’s transportation network, its state of disrepair creates a weak link in the chain connecting businesses to customers and suppliers, utilities to repair crews, and citizens to their jobs and families or from evacuation routes in an emergency. Trucks will be slower. There may be accidents caused by swerving around potholes. A motorist with a flat tire may block one or both lanes for hours leading to idling cars wasting fuel and increasing emissions causing climate change.
That road represents your resiliency. And one road crumbling is all it takes to introduce a massive potential for complications in daily life, not to mention an emergency.
When disaster strikes, how resilient will your community be? Will you withstand extreme weather, a terrorist attack, or a global pandemic? How much of your infrastructure will suffer? Will you be able to keep your utilities, your essential services, or your businesses running? Will people face food shortages? And how quickly will you recover?
The answer to all of these questions depends on your approach to resiliency planning. And the questions themselves are not academic. With Covid-19, we are getting a close-up look at the meaning of resiliency right now. The challenges we face, no longer far-off or theoretical, have come home to roost in dramatic fashion. And resiliency, once intrinsically linked to climate adaptation and mitigation, is now emerging as an end goal in its own right.
If you have not already, now is the time for all communities to begin asking if they have the plans, provisions, and technology they need to keep critical infrastructure functioning and essential services operating in times of crisis.
Are you resilient? Can you afford not to be?
More than five million cases of Covid-19 have been diagnosed worldwide, and to date, the pandemic has claimed more than 150,000 lives in the US alone, with this number continuing to climb. And we’re not out of the woods yet. Experts are concerned about a “second wave” that could be more dramatic and costly than the first. All told, the impact on humanity of the novel coronavirus will be catastrophic. Not to mention the impacts Covid-19 is having on our economy.
From the airport to the grocery store, Covid-19 is slowing or even breaking the systems on which we all rely. Reduced demand for travel due to people staying home or sheltering in place has brought the major airlines to the brink of bankruptcy, while at the same time decreased demand for petroleum drove the price of oil into negative territory for a brief period. Meanwhile, increased demand for items as esoteric as toilet paper, dishwashing soap, and meat products has emptied store shelves.
While social distancing and stay-at-home orders helped “flatten the curve” of Covid-19 and reduced the strain on our health care system, they have introduced an intriguing question for city governments. Namely, how can governments continue to provide essential services when some or all of their workers are working from home?
This is not just a concern related to Covid-19. Occurrences such as extreme weather or terrorist attacks could introduce a need to keep city services running remotely. How many cities have the capacity to make this happen?
Covid-19 has revealed not only how vulnerable we are, but how resilient we must become to not only overcome this crisis, but others — perhaps even more severe — in the future. It is clear that now is a watershed moment to embrace new technologies for maintaining critical infrastructure and services. Now is our moment to truly create more resilient communities.
Companies and municipalities that can employ their workforces from home will thrive, as some limits on social gatherings and distance between workers will likely remain in effect until we have a vaccine or a cure. And those that can source materials and services locally, reducing the distances and complexities of their supply chains, will be able to fill in the gaps left by their competitors. Municipalities with robust infrastructure and smart city enhancements will be bolstered against the ravages of this disease and its follow-on effects.
Making our cities more resilient isn’t just of benefit in a crisis. It improves quality of life on a day to day basis and can actually save taxpayer dollars that can be redirected to other important priorities. According to one estimate, smart city technology has the potential to save US cities up to $208 million dollars over the next 10 years through reduced waste disposal costs, optimized fleets, and other metrics.
Some municipalities have established working groups with community leaders to identify the options available. And companies such as Rubicon exist to help identify or create opportunities. This isn’t something city leaders have to face alone.
Most of the impacts of a crisis are within our power to address. A thoughtful and thorough plan, taking account of unique hazards, vulnerabilities, and capabilities will set a clear path towards becoming a more resilient community.
Now is the time to fix that crumbling road. Invest in a resiliency plan and smart city technology. And ensure workers have the resources they need to work from home in a small scale emergency, like extreme weather — or a large scale one, like a terrorist attack or global pandemic.
Crises like Covid-19 are no longer theoretical. They are with us now, and they will be with us for the foreseeable future. Seen in that light, resiliency is not only a possibility, but a necessity.