Transportation Infrastructure Emergency Management and Natural Disasters

APTOPIX Colorado FloodingOver the past few years, I have had the privilege of working on Traffic Incident Management Plans with transportation and emergency response professionals. I have learned a lot about the importance of speaking the same language, appreciating the other’s mission, and real-time decision-making with consequences. I have also thought about wildfires and blizzards a lot. Over the last week; however, Coloradoans like me, have witnessed record breaking rainfall and devastating flooding in a state where umbrellas are more of a novelty than a necessity.

From my soggy, but not flooded, vantage point I have looked on as these same people who I have been planning with have shifted into action mode. I am in awe of the tirelessness of my colleagues; grateful for their unwavering commitment to our community; and proud to see how our transportation and emergency response professions have progressed in communication, understanding each other, and collaboration. I know that there will be imperfect outcomes. I know we will learn and incorporate lessons from this experience. I also know that my fellow Coloradoans are in the care of excellent individuals deserving of our trust, respect, and gratitude.

I have also had the opportunity to reflect on public infrastructure lost over the last week and see a real challenge ahead. Like our household budgets, public budgets plan for day-to-day life, try to balance system demands with available funds, provide protection against unknown future problems, and address new needs as they arise. Also like our households in recent years, available funds and needs haven’t been in balance so, public officials have focused on system survival and have postponed all but the most necessary items. Here’s the challenge: what do we want our transportation system to look like when we fix it and how are we going to accomplish the vision as a community?

I propose that we need a system that connects our communities; promotes efficient transportation of goods; gets people to their schools, jobs, and essential activities; and invites folks to visit and enjoy our natural and built amenities. All of these elements have numerous sub-elements related to modes of travel, level of convenience, consequence on other aspects of our communities, cost in terms of dollars, and the list goes on.

This time, instead of patching up and moving on, let’s start a conversation. Let’s set a target for the future. Let’s make a plan to reach the target. Let’s execute the plan. Let’s cease holding out for a silver bullet or a solution without sacrifice but instead let’s decide intentionally to establish and follow the narrow path to collective benefit for ourselves and for our neighbors.

We can use this disaster to inspire action in us. We can show our emergency response community our appreciation by making our world, which they work so hard to protect, better than before. We can show our neighbors that every citizen counts by building our collective future, not merely patching our current holes.

Thank you everyone who keeps us safe! Be safe out there yourselves!

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