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Panel discusses ways to lessen impact of severe storms on LI

In 2012, Superstorm Sandy hit Long Island, killing over a dozen people and destroying thousands of homes.

On Tuesday, April 16, four civil engineers led a panel discussion at Hofstra to make sure that the next time a storm like this occurs, the Island will be better prepared.

The discussion, which took place in the Lowenfeld Conference and Exhibition Hall on the 10th floor of the Axinn Library, was called “Designing Resilience in the U.S. Infrastructure: Avoiding SuperStorm Sandy 2.0.”

It featured four panelists: Amy MacDonald, the associate principal and head of resilience at Thornton Tomasetti; Alexander Filotti, risk controller at Underpinning and Foundation Skanska Inc.; Douglas Friend, senior technical director at AKRF Inc; and William Barrett, director of civil engineering at Greenman-Pedersen Inc.

They discussed ways to improve the resiliency of Long Island’s infrastructure so that if another storm of Sandy’s magnitude hits, the socioeconomic impacts wouldn’t be as detrimental.

“Resiliency” is a concept in engineering that refers to the capacity of infrastructure to respond to disturbances by resisting damage and recovering quickly.

“[The panel] gives insight into actual issues of resiliency in engineering and informs us that ... this is what we have to pick up on,” said Chris Milesik, a sophomore engineering major who was in the audience. “I was able to learn a lot.”

According to the panelists, one way to improve resiliency is by combining expertise in other fields, such as ecology and environmental science, with engineering when designing buildings.

Experts in those fields can weigh in if an area is prone to flooding and how methods of construction will impact the environment for storm-resistant and environmentally-safe infrastructure.

Resilience needs a “multidisciplinary approach,” according to MacDonald. She used New York City as an example: “You’ve got the Department of Emergency Management, Department of Environmental Protections, Department of Health – if you’re going to look at resilience as a whole, you need all the different pieces of the puzzle to have that conversation.”

“It’s going to take government, engineering institutions, environmentalists – it should be a concentrated effort,” Filotti said.

According to the panelists, another way to lessen the socioeconomic impacts of natural disasters like Sandy is simply by educating people about them.

Filotti, who is also a professor at Hofstra, said he had “no second thought” about coming to speak at the panel because he believes that more people need to be educated about resiliency and storm safety.

“I think we need more of a coordinated activity in educating people,” Filotti said. “We need to educate people in the language of resilience the ways we are educating people about terrorist attacks and ‘see something, say something.’”

Friend said, “After Sandy, I tried to attend every forum available to learn from the people I considered experts because I hadn’t been involved in resiliency projects [yet] ... Now, after six years of involvement in resiliency, it’s sort of the pay-it-forward approach for me – the opportunity to actually educate and influence some students and some of my peers and teachers seemed like the reasonable thing to do.”

The panelists discussed that although engineering can make buildings more resilient to harsh weather conditions, it does not make them invincible.

“Resiliency is not the idea that these events are not going to happen or that you will be fully protected from any damages,” Friend said. “It’s the ability to recover after the event happens.”

Though the audience was packed with students from the Fred DeMatteis School of Engineering and Applied Science and community members, the panelists worried they would forget what they had learned once they’d left the building.

“I think you forget quickly – it’s been six and a half years since [Sandy] and if you aren’t ... in the [engineering] business and seeing the effects of it every day, you’ve moved on,” Barrett said.

“But there’s a lot of people that haven’t [forgotten] and there’s a lot of work that still needs to be done to address these issues. I think events like these are good just to keep it in the forefront of people’s minds.”

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