Major cities such as Miami, New York, New Orleans, and Houston, as well as many rural areas in between have been affected by hurricanes in recent years, and many other cities in the United States are at risk from sea level rise and other major weather events.
Among the examples of these risks is the work at Texas A&M University, which has shown that a storm surge of about 26 feet in the Houston shipping channel would wipe out the petrochemical industry in the Houston area, which is responsible for over 50% of the national petrochemical output.
Such a catastrophe could be caused by a strong Category 4 hurricane and it would take years for the nation to recover while suffering dramatic consequences to the economy. Equally important, coastal areas are home to 10 ports through which 65% of America’s imported and exported containerized freight flows. Any interruption to a single port, or elements connecting them, will have a domino effect with serious negative impact on the U.S. economy.
In 2016, through a yearlong faculty-driven process, FIU selected Bridge Engineering as one of five preeminent programs at the university. In 2017, in discussion with the Division of Research at FIU, it was agreed that bridge engineering is part of infrastructure and, given the FIU location, it would be beneficial to expand the scope of preeminent bridge engineering to include various aspects of infrastructure.
The first publication of the preeminent bridge engineering program published in mid-2017 with this philosophy in mind, and introduced preeminent bridge engineering as a member of the resilient and sustainable coastal infrastructure group at FIU. However, the details on how to expand preeminent bridge engineering to include other aspects of infrastructure were not well defined.
In early 2019, the decision was finally made to follow up with the original goals of expanding the scope of the preeminent bridge engineering program. This decision signified the establishment of the Preeminent Institute for Resilient and Sustainable Coastal Infrastructure (InteRaCt).
The concept of the “100-year flood,” which has generally been used as design standard, is taking place more frequently than ever. For example, the city of Houston has experienced three 100-year flood events between 2015 and 2018.
Recent natural hazards including hurricanes, flooding, and tornados, especially in coastal areas, have led to increased calls for improved resiliency of the built infrastructure and critical infrastructure systems. The significant increase in hurricane-related losses, from $1.3B/year prior to 1990 to $36B/year post-2000, has been a major concern for the United States. For example, Category 4 Hurricane Irma hit the South Coast of the United States resulting in economic losses of over $50B, making it the fifth-costliest hurricane to affect the United States, after hurricanes Katrina (2005), Harvey (2017), Maria (2017), and Sandy (2012).
Development of approaches to make our Eastern and Gulf coastal areas resilient against natural and manmade hazards demands looking at the problem in an holistic fashion that incorporates policy and public perception and budget limitations, together with solutions that will lead to the creation of jobs. Florida International University (FIU) is taking great strides to meet these challenges.
The goals of the Preeminent Institute for Resilient and Sustainable Coastal Infrastructure (InteRaCt) are to identify engineering solutions to challenges faced by aging infrastructure and to develop innovative and economical technologies for creating resilient and sustainable communities.
I encourage you to read through our web site, become familiar with the capabilities and services we can offer to a myriad of agencies, and be in touch as various needs arise.
Atorod Azizinamini, Ph.D. P.E.