It has been almost two years since the world became aware of the novel coronavirus labeled COVID-19.
Since the pandemic began in January 2020, it has infected more than 230 million worldwide in more than 220 countries.
The lockdowns that countries have imposed to limit the spread of the virus have halted human activities, and health protocols have changed our behavior.
Thankfully, the speedy development, massive production, and roll-out of the vaccine have gradually returned things to normal.
Not as we know it, but rather a new normal where social distancing, virtual meetings, working from home, wearing of masks in public spaces, etc., become commonplace.
The pandemic has also served as a wake-up call and has made us aware of the ultimate vulnerability of a globalized era and mass mobility.
This pathogenic threat has highlighted the importance of isolating and containing certain areas within cities without causing a total shutdown in terms of how we designed and managed infrastructure.
Forbes’ article, “Coronavirus Forces Us To Rethink Infrastructure For An Age Of Biological Risk,” gives a good overview of the problem and potential solutions:
“Our infrastructure—including everything from mass transit systems and roads to buildings and structures to utilities and power grids to railways and waterways—is intended to connect people and enable the movement and accessibility of information, goods, and services. We rely on it to facilitate our daily lives and help us bounce back after other types of disasters.
In the case of pandemics like coronavirus, however, this connectivity works against us by making it easier for contagions to spread. Crowded subways. Busy airports. Concentrated retail centers. Centralized workplaces. Ubiquitous roadways.
Coalescing and connecting people is what these systems were designed for. However, these same qualities are also what makes our physical systems the perfect vehicles for viruses.
It’s essential to design redundancy into systems from the start of work to retrofit legacy systems to eliminate single points of failure. This design redundancy is particularly salient for mass transit agencies and potable water utilities.
Solutions such as these can help create redundant mobility while offering the flexibility people need, especially in a crisis. Water utilities must consider these same principles, which are responsible for moving water from place to place just as our transit infrastructure moves people from place to place.
Although coronavirus has not been detected in municipal water, a future pathogen may not be caught by current water treatment and filtration technologies. Building systems that support more than one way to distribute water should be considered to preempt potential biological disasters.”
Decentralization is one key way that we could fight the potential spread of pathogens.
If people didn’t have to gather at just one airport, shopping mall, or hospital, society could still function, and there would be a much lower risk of infection spreading.
Local shops, medical clinics, and more regional airports that were affordable for people would mitigate the risk significantly.
In terms of water infrastructure – systems that have ways of shutting off controlled areas rather than the entire city having water cut would be ideal for managing things.
Of course, none of the current infrastructure systems in the world have these kinds of things as a priority. Still, perhaps going forward, urban infrastructure planning needs to take a new direction, even if it means many changes and redesigns.
The world’s burgeoning urban populations need a way to feel safe and avoid crowds yet still be able to supply themselves and utilize eco-friendly transport options in the face of contagions.
This article gets you thinking. Can we suggest taking a comprehensive and more holistic view of Infrastructure Management, risk management, and resilience planning as you consider these challenges?