Vanderbilt expert urges government to prepare for extreme weather events

Middle TN

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — A Vanderbilt University extreme weather expert weighed in on the lessons from this year’s severe weather events.

For instance, weather disasters were becoming more frequent, intense, and costly, according to Hiba Baroud, Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Vanderbilt University.

She said governments need to prepare before extreme weather hits, making future-based predictions and not just relying on historical data to understand potential concerns.

“One thing would be to mitigate the risks, so putting plans in place to upgrade infrastructure systems that are able to protect communities from potential hazards like flooding,” said Baroud.

She added that cities need to plan for the next 50-100 years.

“I understand that it’s challenging to think ahead especially when we’re looking at 50 or 100 years from now and so when we have situations like this I think people should look back instead. Look back 50 years, a hundred years from now, and then see where we were and where we are now,” she said, adding the majority of the country’s critical current infrastructure was built 50 years ago. “We’re witnessing in certain cases it was not able to withstand some of the extreme weather events and that’s simply because when it was built these extreme events were almost impossible whereas now we’re seeing they’re becoming more and more frequent.”

This year, municipalities had the added challenge of making preparations while keeping the COVID-19 pandemic in mind. She used Hurricane Laura’s impact on the Gulf as an example.

“Generally, pandemics made disaster planning and response quite challenging. For example, the decision to shelter or evacuate can become more complex. Public emergency shelters can increase exposure to the virus,” said Baroud. “In this case for instance there are hundreds of thousands of people evacuating states that had very high disease spread rates and so there’s a concern of these evacuations leading to spread in other states.”

Baroud said there are also more people moving towards denser areas like Metro Nashville which increased vulnerability. She said educating these communities about the risks was a key factor in preparing for natural disasters.

After a disaster hits, she urged local leaders to ensure vulnerable populations received timely assistance.

“Oftentimes these communities are disproportionately impacted by disasters and they likely won’t have a backup plan to seek shelter or access water, food, and electricity so that’s something that’s extremely important to keep in mind,” Baroud added.

September is National Preparedness Month which promotes family and community disaster planning now and throughout the year. Click here to read more.

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