Friday, August 26, 2011

Will Hurricane Irene Be Like the Hurricane of 1938?

The last time that a major hurricane hit NYC and western Massachusetts was back in 1938, and there is serious speculation that Hurricane Irene now moving up the eastern seaboard may be as bad as the 1938 hurricane (which is being referred to as its Grandma) and, given the increase in population over the past 70 years in the Northeast, its impact even worse.

One has to realize that 63 million people live in the northeast corridor, 20% of the US population!

There is ongoing analysis
as to what may happen to critical infrastructure links, including tunnels and bridges, as well as worst case scenarios.

Given that it is not unreasonable that the NYC subway system could be knocked out, Governor Andrew Cuomo has announced that the NYC mass transit system is being shut down at noon tomorrow, Saturday, August 27. In addition, residents of NYC have been advised to stay indoors from Saturday at 9PM through this Sunday 9PM.

Hundreds of flights have already been cancelled by Jet Blue airline alone. For the first time in NYC, evacuations have been ordered in parts of NYC by Mayor Bloomberg.

For more updates on transit shutdowns and thousands of flight cancellations click here.

Also, since the Northeast corridor is roughly at sea level, the transportation infrastructure along it from roads, rails, airports, etc., can be severely affected by Hurricane Irene. Just think, where does one even shelter all the trains and planes?

Coincidentally, on a recent shuttle trip to catch a flight at Bradley airport, my driver brought up the 1938 hurricane, which he had survived, and he worked for years as a civil engineer. He had told me that people have forgotten about the devastation that resulted. I located some photos of the flooding, etc., on one of our local news websites.

Obviously, we have started to prepare for Hurricane Irene, and unlike the tornados (another "rare" event) that swept through western Massachusetts on June 1, 2011, we have much more time to do so!

The most recent book that I co-authored, Fragile Networks: Identifying Vulnerabilities and Synergies in an Uncertain World, with Dr. Patrick Qiang, provides metrics for the identification of which transportation (and other critical infrastructure) network links (and nodes) are the most important.

It appears that many state and local governments are doing a good job in notifying citizens and in preparing for this emergency. In the meantime, make sure that you take care of your family members and watch out for the well-being of your neighbors.