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How Do Civil Engineering Advances Help Improve Disaster Management in High-disaster Areas?

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Engineering
Wordcount: 4616 words Published: 23rd Sep 2019

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     How do civil engineering advances help improve       

         Disaster management in high-disaster areas?

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In depth analysis on how civil engineers are fundamental in the advances of disaster management will be discussed throughout this report. This is best understood by analysing cases in which natural disasters have occurred in high risk areas and how civil engineers in various countries have previously managed disasters to understand the impact it would have in terms of economic, social, political and social issues are dealt with. The EU, specifically the European Environmental Agency had conducted a report in which they analysed the effects of three types of hazards: hydro-meteorological or weather related, geophysical and technological. Within this report, we would be focusing on the prior two hazards as we will analyse how natural disasters have various impacts. This shows how much the political side is impacted by this issue. They have found that the losses attributable to climate change will most likely grow in the future as the number of events and the degree of extreme weather will grow. The report overall illustrated the severe impact on human fatalities as well as the dire effect on the loss of money which affects the country directly. 

Figure 1-


Earthquakes play a major part in natural disasters. Earthquakes are created by rocks underground suddenly breaking along a fault. Seismic waves make the ground shake which is created by the sudden release of energy when the breaking along a fault occurs (Endsley, 2019). Examples of engineering responses to earthquakes are preparedness, mitigation and recovery.

Preparedness involves the planning for access to emergency services and the use of infrastructure that has been put in place to manage anticipated emergencies. Examples of what preparations that was put into place are as follows: identifying evacuation centres and providing these with storage facilities for emergency uses. Preparing appropriate emergency supplies such as search and rescue equipment, portable toilets, temporary shelters, water treatment systems, food supplies and medical facilities. Improving heavy equipment to reopen key access routes relieve and provide early access for any recovery efforts. Developing plans to provide key portable and temporary infrastructure (Merrilees, 2015).Base isolation is a type of method that has recently been developed to equip structures in such a way that damage created by an earthquake upon the structure is very minimal. This works by reducing the amount of movement a building goes through when experiencing an earthquake. When the building is resting on pads/flexible bearings the building will only move a little bit or in some cases not even move during an earthquake. https://www.sciencelearn.org.nz/resources/1022-how-do-base-isolators-work

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Mitigation, involves the attempt to reduce any potential risks caused by earthquakes. An example of how this was done by introducing Road Bridge designs, the new bridge involved the following aspects, the use of large single span this helped to reduce the use of environmentally intrusive intermediate support piers in river channels. Increased freeboard to the deck soffit t fight against any increases in water levels that may occur due to adverse weather conditions. Simpler and more reliable bearing details which provided lateral restraints to deal with movements and any loading caused by earthquake events. Balanced cantilever launching methods to allow large spans to be put up without the need of building supports that are temporary (Merrilees, 2015).

Recovery involves engineers to be responsible for providing temporary infrastructure and reopening key access routes. Engineers are expected to immediately to carry out quick visual inspections so that people can return to their homes as soon as possible after an earthquake has hit. Vibration based damage detection has also been improved to detect damage efficiently as this allows for damage to be detected quicker therefore allowing for people to return home rapidly. Engineers can also help with heavy earth moving equipment to clear any blockages (Merrilees, 2015).

Economic and Political impacts of Nepal’s quake is an example of how earthquakes affect the economy and politics. The following governments were quick to provide help when Nepal just went through an earthquake. The countries are as follows, Australia, UK, China, Israel, Japan and the UN. Nepal tried to enforce building regulations dated in 1994 in regards to earthquakes affecting building structures. Lack of infrastructure such as paved roads meant that immediate help was not readily available so it made it harder for medical services to reach and provide any assistance along with any other humanitarian services. Tourism was affected very badly due to this natural disaster which meant that the economy experienced a drastic shortfall in GDP. The Nepalese government were unable to aid those who required help due to being highly unstable this is mainly because of them experiencing a Civil War In the years of 1996-2006. Also having several Prime Ministers within a short period of time meant that any strategies that the government may want to implement would fall through. Earthquakes provided an incentive for countries to help, this built trust. Beijing and New Delhi were positioning themselves to take advantage of Nepal’s six thousand rivers to help build their hydroelectric power plants. http://time.com/3843436/these-are-the-5-facts-that-explain-nepals-devastating-earthquake/

Sustainability has to be included when designing buildings to go prevent earthquake damage. Sustainability in this scenario meaning meeting today’s requirements while not affecting the future. Constructing buildings which are able to recover from natural disasters is part of sustainability. Designing a building to fight against earthquakes to introduce resilience in buildings. This is done mainly by designing foundations so that the substructure is not affected but the superstructure is. Therefore, the foundations are not affected as much. Accurately assessing situations and making careful judgements are part of having a sustainable scheme for Earthquake management. Other things that involve sustainability…..



Flooding occurs when water overflows on areas which would normally be dry. This event usually happens when a river overflows onto the nearby land called the floodplain. Reasons for this event include: high volume of rain, a burst dam or the result of ice melting in mountains.

Usually takes several hours or days for a flood to happen but sometimes they can happen extremely quickly without much warning, these types of floods are flash floods.


The floods that happened in Cumbria in 2009 is a study in which we can determine how engineer’s advances have helped in the flood disasters.

Firstly focusing on the economic issues the natural disaster had on the town; it had a dramatically negative economic effect as it resulted in £276 million worth of damages to homes, businesses and infrastructure. £91 million of this was purely due to the damage caused to homes, with 150 households still not being able to return their home a year after the floods. Damages to shops, farm and factories totalled £124m. It also had an impact on tourism as there was a tremendous loss to the town of £15 million, with £2.5 million loss caused from the cancellation of bookings to the area due to the floods. This shows that overall, flooding can cause huge economic issues as it affects more than just roads, but properties and agriculture being at huge losses.

There were also major social issues as 198 people had to seek psychological help due to the events.  Also made it extremely difficult for members of the community to find a suitable route to get from one side of town to the other due to most infrastructure that had been damaged being bridges.


A group of members of the Corps of Royal Engineers helped assess the situation in continued efforts to help restore the infrastructure that was subject to severe damages by the floods.

Civil engineering advances were used as the Logistic Support Bridge which was originally the Bailey Bridge developed in World War II which has the original advantages such as being rapidly erected, simplicity with constructing, strong integrated design and standard components that are easily interchangeable. This original design has been adapted by adding more currently used materials, steel decking, integral grillages and an adjustable ramp. Military army engineers are usually those that construct such bridges due to the capacity in which they work, such as in war torn countries where such expertise and skill are usually required in order to help civilians in those areas. It has been shown to be the most useful advance by engineers for areas with flooding in more than 70 NATO countries.

This type of bridge is primarily used as a temporary replacement for existing damaged bridges to allow the routes to still be available to the community, as used in the damage of the old Northside Bridge in Cumbria. Although the bridge could carry 40 tonnes of weight, it was still decided by the engineers to keep them pedestrianised.  This helped with the social impact as previously it has made it difficult for the community such as children to get to school but local transport would stop fairly close to the bridge, so was easy for people to make their way across the bridge to their required destinations, shown by the 35,000 people that would make use of the bridge each week.


When communities are given the opportunity to be involved by sharing their opinions on the construction/reparation of new bridges, this causes a positive social impact due to giving them a feeling of integration within the community and making themselves feel heard by being able to voice their opinions on the future on the infrastructure and routes to be made available to them. This illustrates that in high disaster areas concerning the development of new infrastructure as well as the reparation of existing ones, it creates a positive social impact to the community by being included in future of their town.

Engineering-related strategies are split into two subcategories of: hard engineering and soft engineering. Hard engineering strategies for flooding are ones that act as a barrier between the river and land. These are generally artificial structures which are adapted into the area in order to reinforce the existing natural structures. Strategies include diversion spillways which are when the flow of water is diverted more downstream of a river, channelization which is the straightening and deepening of the channel in order to allow water to efficiently flow through without causing an overflow, artificial embankments made out of erosion-resistant concrete which make them extremely resilient to floods in comparison to natural levees and are much larger in size or levees and dredging.

The UK government has findings that show that in order to manage future floods that between £22 billion and £75 billion of new engineering would be required by the year 2080. It is found that engineering advances alone will make flood management extremely costly and so require a mix of engineering and non-structural measures such as building regulations, land-use planning and rural catchment storage. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/300332/04-947-flooding-summary.pdf

Figure 2-https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/300332/04-947-flooding-summary.pdf

The Government also state that there is continual need for civil engineers within flood risk management such as for the design of flood defence and urban drainage systems.


Urban drainage systems are a tool used in the events of a flood as it a method in which excess water can be removed from land and also remove excess water from soil. Recently it has been shown that the urban drainage system has even been source of some flooding, as well as the pollution and damage to the area. Therefore, a newer concept is being used for floods called Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems (SuDS) which tackles any of the environmental and social issues caused by the original urban drainage system that was in place. It is a much more sustainable method as it reduces the impact of urbanisation flooding, has high water quality, thereby reducing pollution and also takes into account surrounding wildlife and plants.




A hurricane is defined as a storm with a violent wind. Hurricanes tend to be formed over ocean water especially warm ones. They tend to strike land sometimes. When a hurricane reaches land, it pushes a wall of ocean water on to shore. When this happens, it is called a storm surge Heavy rain and water that is produced by the storm surge normally leads to flooding. A hurricanes initial stages can be described as tropical disturbance. This tropical disturbance is described as an area where rain clouds are building over warm ocean waters. The tropical disturbance changes to tropical disturbance, this is when their presence of thunderstorms with wind speeds ranging from 38mph and below. https://www.nasa.gov/audience/forstudents/k-4/stories/nasa-knows/what-are-hurricanes-k4.html

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Before a hurricane hits a location, engineers have developed methods to reduce the effect that hurricanes have, they normally focus on reducing the following measures; frequency, intensity, impacts and scale of hazards. Preparation plans are carried out, these plans include early warning systems these warning systems normally allow engineers to predict the occurrence of a hurricane and the intensity of the hurricane along with early warning engineers provide plans which are used for contingency purposes which can be used by the affected community to provide an efficient response and recovery. https://www.designingbuildings.co.uk/wiki/Engineers_and_hurricanes

Methods used to prepare for a hurricane is by predicting the weather and reacting to an earthquake is done by evacuation only. Current hurricane response methods are becoming increasingly affected by the following, population and economic development are growing dramatically in areas near the coast, forecasts that are used to track and detect the intensity of the hurricane is slowly improving, evacuation times are tending to become slower due to high confidence hurricane warnings and finally many people seem to remain in high risk areas whilst the shelters provided such as road and shelter infrastructure are being used by people from low risk areas.


Shelter-in-place and refuge-of-last-resort are being used as techniques to battle the dilemmas mentioned above, these techniques help reduce the time it takes to respond to a hurricane but it does come with a few negatives, such as it carrying greater risk and also providing less assurance of survival. Opportunities to improve the current strategies in place for hurricane response, they are as follows: communication before, during and after a hurricane, education of hurricanes and the importance of preparing for a hurricane, managing emergency situations, planning for the hurricane and the use of land, building and engineering, legislation and government services along with technology and science. Tracking of hurricanes and intensity remain highly uncertain, uncertainties in emergency management are due to several factors such as the ability of the population to be mobile is not very clear, due to any disabilities also the number of people receiving the warning messages and who act upon this also affect emergency management. Uncertainties in media arise, where conflict between private and official forecast arises. Poor media response impacts the efficiency of the response therefore leading to delays in response. https://www.ametsoc.org/index.cfm/ams/policy/studies-analysis/hurricane-preparation-response/

Policies have been discussed in the past few years but is still yet to be applied to control hurricane response. There is currently insufficient funding and attention given towards developing and applying hurricane response. The forum on Policy issues in Hurricane preparedness and response made the following general recommendations to improve hurricane response, Congress is to mandate a national assessment on existing infrastructure, hurricane threats and also propose mitigation ideas, the FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) should lead an effort to provide a better coordination of responsibilities and teamwork within the parties at all level of government such as local, national and regional. Future methods to improve hurricane response and methods involved in finding accurate methods to carry this out is to be investigated. Policies should be introduced to improve existing response procedures and existing programs. Prediction services should start using USWRP (U.S. WEATHER RESEARCH PROGRAM) this method will increase research attempts for predicting hurricanes and will be useful to transfer this data quicker to the operational forecast applications. https://www.ametsoc.org/index.cfm/ams/policy/studies-analysis/hurricane-preparation-response/

Puerto Rico was hit by a Hurricane, this hurricane was classified to being level 5, and it nearly caused five thousand deaths. Solar Energy has been a part of Puerto Rico’s contribution towards sustainability as it has been used more heavily and has helped reduce carbon emissions. Carbon emissions has seemed to be the main culprit in providing the Hurricane with power to create damage to this extent. By using solar panels Puerto Rico is more prepared for another fatal situation like this in the future. They have now provided homes with a connection to the renewable energy grid, now using this the population can decide if they want to use the larger grid or the solar grid. By implementing solar panels the Puerto Rico has been able to reduce the dependency of fossil fuels. Puerto Rico rejected larger food systems they now focus on providing their own food using Agroecology, this is the sustainable way to carry out agriculture. This allowed Puerto Rico to regain the political and economic power that the United States denied them. Local production also reduces the carbon emission and again reducing the probability of the hurricane occurring again.  https://www.thenation.com/article/hurricane-season-puerto-ricans-imagining-sustainable-future/


Landslides can be created by two main ways, one being the natural way and the other being human causes.

The natural way of landslides occurring is by seismic activities and by heavy rainfall. When plate tectonics move they tend to make the soil above it to move. When there is an occurrence of an earthquake around areas having steep slopes it causes the soil to tip causing the landslide. Moreover, a sudden flow of water from heavy rain caused by earthquakes can make the soil around it to move. Heavy rainfall is the other natural way to create landslides, when areas with a slope become completely saturated several times repeatedly landslides can occur. When there is no root or anything acting as an anchor for the soil to be stable the soil just simply runs off when it contains too much water.

Landslides also occur due to human causes, clear cutting is an issue which can cause landslides as the method of timber harvesting is to blame for removing any existing mechanical root, which holds the soil together. Mining plays a part in this type of landslides, blasting and using explosives can create sliding in soil due to vibrations created by these explosives. https://people.uwec.edu/jolhm/eh2/rogge/causes.htm

Engineering methods used to prevent landslides are as follows; Geogrid, expansive anchor belt and construction methods


Civil engineering advances help a drastic amount in terms of preparation, mitigation and recovery when natural disasters have taken place. Natural disasters occur in many locations affecting several hundreds of people around the world. The main reasons behind a large impact or a large amount of losses due to natural disasters rely mainly on underestimating the level of disaster that can occur, lack of communication before, during and after the hazard occurs. Political factors include the injection of money to help restructure/repair which can have a detrimental effect on the economy of the country and also would make political figures reconsider current legislations in regards to what they do when natural disasters occur. It is also clear that through natural disasters, several countries work in harmony and provide a sense of unity which can evolve into future relationships which can help improve the countries and social factors associated with natural disasters arise due to buildings and people being put at risk.

Through the analysis of the case studies of various natural disasters around the world, it is clear that although there have been civil engineering advances, there is still room for improvement as there are still a lot of concerns in regards to the social issues such as the quality of life, response to warnings, the lack of readily available resources for basic living needs. Environmental issues are still negatively impacted as buildings are still constructed in areas that are high risk which can make them susceptible to natural disasters such as in the events of flooding as over-construction in areas where water should be absorbed by flood plains are not available. Civil engineers are fundamental in natural disasters as they are usually the first group of professionals that are called in order to rectify the damages that are caused but also prior to any events like this occurring, they implement any structures required in order to prevent or at least minimise any damages that may occur if a natural disaster were to arise. From the government report, it is evident that there may be an issue in the number of civil engineers available needed during natural disasters that are readily trained to deal with disasters such as Logistic Support Bridges which military engineers are mainly equipped with the knowledge to construct as they are already trained for duties in areas such as Afghanistan.



Endsley, K. (2019). Why Do Earthquakes Happen?. [online] Geo.mtu.edu. Available at: http://www.geo.mtu.edu/UPSeis/why.html [Accessed 22 Jan. 2019].

Merrilees, K. (2015). Natural disasters: an engineer’s perspective in Nepal. Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers – Municipal Engineer, 169(2), pp.65-73.

European report


Has all the case studies


Nepal – earthquake


How Korean civil engineers deal with disaster management


Has the world map disaster graph



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