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Vulnerability of the Built Environment

The built environment is the physical manifestation of the collective will of a society to build for itself a habitat to live in. “It  includes  the buildings where we live, work, learn,  and  play;  the  lifelines  that  connect  and  service them; and the community and region of which they are a part. It is the roads, utility lines, and the communication systems we use to travel, receive water and electricity, or send information from one place to another. The pipes and transmission lines that carry vital supplies and wastes for use or treatment are other essential elements. Very simply,the built environment comprises the substantive physical framework for human society to function in its many aspects—social, economic, political, and institutional” (Geis, 2000).

As density increases – more public utilities, more transportation systems, more strip malls, single family homes, apartment buildings, business parks – the potential for catastrophic losses from disaster events increases (Mileti, 1999). This factor is one of many identified in the Hazards-of-place model of vulnerability (Cutter, 1996;  Cutter,  Mitchell,  and  Scott,  2000) as a factor of social vulnerability to disasters.

“Disasters have taught us over the years that there are clear links between the design (function, configuration, use, and form) of the systems and elements of the community built environment (transportation/utility infrastructure,  neighborhoods,  public  and  private  facilities,  commercial development, social and open space infrastructure, etc.) and the community’s vulnerability to the impacts of extreme natural events” (Geis, 2000, 154).

The degree of destruction caused by hazardous events can lead to displacement of the population and a cascade of interconnected losses in social cohesion, tax revenue and employment in larger municipalities where affected populations are found (Geis, 2000). A terrible ripple effect can emanate through a larger city once a single neighborhood disintegrates under the losses caused by a disaster.

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1. Resilence - organizations, transportation and supply chains « husdal.com - October 18, 2009

[…] I like this view on resilience, and the importance of ‘preparedness’ is very similar to the ‘organizational’ requisites seen in Craighead et al. (2007) The Severity of Supply Chain Disruptions: Design Characteristics and Mitigation Capabilities. Here, recovery and warning capability were key organizational factors in mitigating supply chain disruptions. In the end, it is always the human factor that matters, not technology. And perhaps, resilience is what New Orleans needs next time a hurricane like Katrina threatens the city and its built environment. […]

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