Designing for Disaster Preparedness

A new report shows natural disasters are growing in quantity and intensity. Munich Re, the world’s largest reinsurer, estimates damage-causing weather events have quadrupled in Asia and North America since 1980 and nearly doubled in Africa and Europe.

The reality of these findings hits close to home for people in the New York area who are struggling to repair the $65 billion in damage caused by Superstorm Sandy. That hurricane now ranks as the second-costliest to hit the United States after Hurricane Katrina, which damaged more than $100 billion in property in the southern part of the US.

We’ve also seen how natural disasters can affect hospitals and schools, sometimes shutting them down for weeks or even permanently. So, what if design could mitigate at least some of the effects natural disasters have on vital community infrastructure?

That’s the theory behind our design of the new VA Hospital in New Orleans. We sought to ensure that patients can receive treatment even in the midst of hurricanes, flooding or both. For example, primary utilities--which connect the hospital to the city power grid--are located on the fourth level to prevent flood damage. For other examples of design elements that weather the storm, see below.