Estimates for the economic damage resulting from Superstorm Sandy are circulating from $15 to $50 billion in damage. No formal assessments have been completed yet, and it’s likely that these are “repair” estimates that reflect the cost of cleaning up and repairing infrastructure back to its former state. A repair bill is likely to be much lower than the cost of hardening and improving vital transport, energy and communication systems to withstand more storms like Sandy or worse. After Hurricane Katrina, architect Frederic Schwartz wrote:
The planning of cities in the face of disaster (natural and political) must reach beyond the band-aid of short-term recovery. Disaster offers a unique opportunity to rethink the planning and politics of our metro-regional areas…
I’m not advocating centralized economic planning, but instead the concept of having a clean slate to rethink a region’s needs and weaknesses. Much of New York’s infrastructure is over 50 years old and some parts of the subway system are over 100 years old. On top of these old and heavily worn systems have been laid new systems that support the regions modern economy.
A 2008 Critical National Infrastructure Report, performed by the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack references the effects of an enormous external shock to the system:
The U.S. has developed more than most other nations as a modern society heavily dependent on electronics, telecommunications, energy, information networks, and a rich set of financial and transportation systems that leverage modern technology. This asymmetry is a source of substantial economic, industrial and societal advantages, but it creates vulnerabilities and critical interdependencies that are potentially disastrous to the United States.