Detailed Site Analysis Can Help Select Disaster-Resilient Location For Critical Facilities
Imagine you are considering a potential site for a new 911 emergency communications and emergency operations center. Given its proximity to other public works facilities, the proposed site is highly desirable. In the process of your detailed site analysis of whether the site is disaster-resilient, however, you discover certain inherent exposures to the site that could lead to disaster should certain rare — yet predictable — weather events happen at the same time.
This very scene played out recently. The proposed site for the 911 center was in a major city near the Atlantic coast, quite near an existing 911 center which would remain as a back-up facility. Adjacent land parcels had been developed with light industrial and government public works facilities. Although within the bounds of a floodplain, the proposed site was on a rise of land that would be, according to the FEMA Flood Insurance Rate Maps, approximately four feet above predicted base flood elevations for 100- and 500-year floods.
But there were concerns. For one thing, all roadways to the site would see a minimum flooding of one foot. What's more, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Sea, Lake, and Overland Surges from Hurricanes (SLOSH) database revealed that the ground floor of the building would be under some four feet of water. Based on modeling of historic weather and storm data, the SLOSH map predicted that the site could be flooded and overtopped from hurricane-induced storm flooding surges. As a result, the site failed the basic test of whether the facility was sufficiently isolated to resist the impact of a natural disaster. Incidentally, it was found that the site identified as the future backup facility would also be subject to the same storm-induced flooding. Ultimately, an upland site well out of the influence of coastal flooding was found for the new 911 center.
As that example shows, thorough, knowledge-based analysis from the outset is vital to the selection of a new critical facility site. Critical facilities — including data centers, network operations centers, communications centers, command and control centers, emergency response sites, and public safety and law enforcement facilities — need to be sufficiently robust to remain in operation and survive under stress, whether caused by natural or human agents. Carefully developed parameters should be determined at project initiation to identify optimal site characteristics or vulnerabilities that cannot be fully mitigated.
Public safety officials often speak of "incidents on top of incidents" as events that create unpredictable challenges to continuity of operations. If the facility is properly sited, and external risks are fully considered and, if necessary, mitigated, the facility will be in a better position to respond to such challenges.