Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Slow-moving Disaster

Eastern Massachusetts has seen a succession of blizzards over the past month, resulting in many lost days of school and work, the ruination of regional public transportation (which had been operating with seriously deferred maintenance for decades), many traffic accidents, battles over already limited parking, and roof collapses, all with the added bonus of complaining and political finger-pointing.
Over 35,000 truckloads of snow have been removed from Boston, and it is still everywhere.
Image: WGBH
So it has been seriously inconvenient and even dangerous, and periodically over the past several weeks formal emergencies have been declared.

I had been wondering, however, whether the term "disaster" might apply, slow-moving though it may be in comparison to a wildfire, earthquake, or tornado event. Northeastern University engineering professor Ozlem Ergun recently moved to Boston (quite a welcome, Dr. Ergun!) and has been wondering the same thing. Specifically, she is an expert on debris, and made useful comparisons to post-earthquake Haiti during a discussion of our "Debris Event" on WGBH. Like me, she is also worried about what will happen when all of this snow melts. Specifically, she advocates planning for the debris that is likely to be liberated when all of this snow starts flowing.

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