The situation last week in Lynchburg, Va., was one no one wanted to read or write about, let alone live through, but it seems Mother Nature has little regard for human comfort and, at times, even human life. Heavy rainfall in Lynchburg put infrastructure back on everyone’s minds, as the potential collapse of the College Lake Dam weighed heavy on the minds of Virginians and Americans everywhere for several days.
On Thursday evening, the National Weather Service reported the Lynchburg dam could fail, and if it did, it warned the water depth in the immediately surrounding areas could “exceed 17 feet in 7 minutes.” Friday morning, the dam was still intact, but fear remained as assessments were performed to determine the stability of the dam. On Saturday, evacuation orders were lifted as water levels dropped and as reports came back saying there were no signs of structural failure.
It’s these situations that serve as an urgent reminder about how important infrastructure maintenance really is. And, unfortunately, dams in the United States, in general, aren’t in great shape. In its latest Infrastructure Report Card, the ASCE (American Society of Civil Engineers) gave U.S. dams a “D” grade. Thousands of the nation’s dams—15,498 to be exact—have been identified as having a “high-hazard potential,” and this is too many. Out of sight, out of mind may be the convenient route, but it’s not the route that protects lives, businesses, and property when it matters most.
Dams serve a number of purposes, from providing flood control to providing drinking water, irrigation, hydropower, and even recreation opportunities, and because they serve such critical functions, they deserve to be invested in and maintained. As the Lynchburg event demonstrated, the threat of a dam failure where the dam’s purpose is flood control is terrifying. The IoT (Internet of Things) can and will play a role in future emergency situations as more physical infrastructure is monitored with sensors and proactively maintained. First responders, too, will have more tools to gather realtime data about emerging situations and keep citizens informed.
In emergency situations, it’s easy to point fingers when things don’t go as planned. But in reality, as Connected World covered in July, infrastructure investment is an issue that often gets muddled by politics. Money must come from somewhere, and when it comes down to it, there are a lot of areas cities, states, and the federal government must commit to financially. That said, infrastructure in many ways is like America’s lifelines, facilitating transportation through roads and bridges, as well as energy delivery, drinking and wastewater services, and flood protection through dams. In today’s IoT-connected world, connectivity infrastructure is also a necessity for life and business. This will be a topic that will be addressed in-depth in a panel discuss at the Constructech Technology Day conference, which will take place on August 23 in Arlington Heights, Ill.
So many different types of infrastructure are crucial for life and business, and in times of potential peril, like the heavy rains and flooding in Lynchburg last week, it throws the reality of the U.S.’s infrastructure into sharp relief. The College Lake Dam held, and this was one disaster narrowly avoided, but it should still serve as a reminder that our infrastructure needs what technology can offer.
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