Wash Out!

Well as we start yet another record-breaking hurricane season here in the U.S., many in our southern states and the Gulf of Mexico are bracing for impact. Already hurricanes Harvey and Irma have caused billions in damage to home, businesses, infrastructure and lives. Power companies and cleanup crews are busy wrestling with the monumental task of cleanup and repair. Insurance adjusters are busy with FEMA trying to put a price tag on these disasters yet new threats start to percolate in the southern Atlantic.

There are a few ways to look at natural disasters like these. First is the very real and very negative impact of the debris that can take up to a year to remove entirely and is already over taxing landfills and removal crews, many who are trucked in from other states. Texas alone is estimating $200 million in removal costs expecting to double the size of the landfills and are already causing previously closed landfills to be re-open. Private and public construction vehicles including dump trucks and front loaders are working around the clock in addition to Texas National Guard to clean up the mess.

Unfortunately, this debris does not disappear overnight causing residents to live with the piles in front of their homes and businesses for weeks, and months before crews arrive sitting in the Texas sun baking and rotting away. This debris contains a myriad of items including general construction debris of lumber, wet drywall, siding, etc. in addition to furniture, carpet and other various household items. Luring in this pile however is a natural disaster of its own waiting to happen. Tons upon tons of electronics and other technology devices that were destroyed in the onslaught of wind and storm surge. As many of these items have been badly damages and broken, these components are working their way into the dirt, mud and water ways leeching out toxic mercury, lead and other hazardous substances.

And it the trash pile is fortunate to be picked up in relatively short order, it is being deposited directly into the overflowing landfills instead of being responsibly recycled. The problem will be even worse for Florida as the climate is more humid in nature and most of it lies on water canals and the Everglade swamps. Natural disasters such as hurricanes can cause more damage to the ecology long after the waters recede especially when the ground water and soil becomes impacted. This does not even account to debris that may have been blown into water ways or washed out into the ocean which have their own environmental negative impact.

Secondly, on a positive side, those of us in the ICT industry that manufacture, specify and install replacement technology can be smarter about it and provide ecologically minded solutions that can offer the same or better functionality with more resiliency and portability so systems have a better chance of surviving natural disasters. This may include developing design strategies that leverage cloud based systems that can help to keep clients up and running even when they have to bug out of a location do an impending event. Our Houston office was able to relocate inland to bunk with our Dallas office and not lose workflow due to the resilient nature of the cloud based systems we have in place allowing those employees to remote in or pull up their work for another office out of harm’s way. Understanding that not all systems can or should be made portable like this, the opportunity then falls to manufacturers to develop products with more environmentally friendly components that will have less of an impact on the ground. Additionally, reclamation of electronics in the aftermath would have added benefits of eliminating these electronics from the waste stream while providing a resource for manufacturers at the component or raw material level. Finding these partners while providing funding through FEMA grants, State and Local governments, and the private sector can provide a positive economic stream for the effected region benefiting the locals and the environment.