Tools for Building Disaster Resilient Communities

By Eli Walton

As a student in Connecticut, I witnessed first-hand the effects of major disasters like Hurricane Sandy and “Winter Storm Nemo,” the February 2013 blizzard. Downed trees and branches littered streets and green space, record snowfall rendered roadways impassable for residents and emergency services, and hundreds of thousands of people were left without power, sometimes for weeks. Having experienced these impacts, I am grateful to be part of EPA’s efforts to help communities better mitigate, prepare for, respond to, and recover from events like these.

Disaster responders in hazmat suits clean up

EPA Responds to the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in 2010.

Disasters—whether a hurricane, oil spill, or contamination event—can strike at any time, at any place, and can have devastating consequences for human health and the environment. They may make existing problems worse, like when the Joplin, Missouri tornado exposed people to toxic waste lingering from Joplin’s mining days. They also may create new environmental hazards, like when mold plagued homes and businesses flooded by Hurricane Sandy. While not all disasters can be prevented, the potential harms and risks they pose can be mitigated with the right tools and actions.

Researchers and scientists in EPA’s Homeland Security Research Program, along with collaborators across the Agency, are constantly developing and refining new tools for decision-makers. These tools, compiled in this inventory, serve a variety of purposes, including cleaning up contamination, managing waste and debris, and modeling watersheds. Individually, these tools address different issues that may arise when preparing for or responding to an event. Altogether, they can help communities become more resilient to disasters.

An American flag hangs above wreckage from a tornado.

Wreckage following a 2013 Tornado in Moore, Oklahoma.

For example, the Incident Waste Assessment & Tonnage Estimator (I-WASTE) can help with disaster preparedness and planning by identifying appropriate waste disposal technologies and facilities before they are needed. The Community-Based Water Resiliency Tool (CBWR) can help with emergency planning for an event that may affect water resources and can be used by utilities, officials, and concerned citizens alike. When environmental contamination arises, the Aggregated Computational Toxicology Online Resource (ACTOR) can be used to inform decisions based on chemical toxicity and the potential health effects of chemical exposures in the environment.

The tools in this inventory are just a sample of EPA’s resources, and much more work is underway across the Agency and with collaborators to help strengthen both individual and community disaster resilience.

About the Author: Eli Walton is a Student Services Contractor with the National Homeland Security Research Center in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

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