The road to recovery: Rebuilding the transport sector after a disaster

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Transport and disaster recovery

In the Paradise, California fires of November 2018, a range of factors coalesced leaving 86 people dead and over 13,900 homes destroyed. Fueling the fires were gale-force winds that when combined with the area’s institutional and infrastructural challenges led to one of the deadliest fires in California history.

When Paradise was developed, the road network was built to maximize buildable space for homes. However, as the Paradise fires demonstrated, in the event of a large-scale disaster, the road network inhibited community-wide evacuation. Paradise featured nearly 100 miles of private roads that dead-ended on narrow overlooks with few connector streets. As wind rapidly accelerated the fire throughout the community, residents trying to flee found themselves on roads paralyzed by traffic for hours on end. Evacuation routes turned into fire traps. Local officials went on to say that the miracle of the tragedy was how many people escaped.

The Paradise example demonstrates the importance of transport networks for allowing swift evacuation during the response phase, and also hints at how important effective recovery of the transport network will be in Paradise, California. In the aftermath of any significant disaster event, it is the roads, railways and ports that underpin the restoration of economic activity and the reconstruction of critical infrastructure after a disaster. In the aftermath of devastating floods, earthquakes, landslides, or typhoons, roads may be rendered unusable, making it more expensive to transport goods and services as well as preventing people from earning income. As such, having multiple ways to get from point A to point B, by modality and by route, is critical to continued connectivity. The recovery phase can be the impetus to reexamine vulnerable links in the transport network and address those deficiencies to help reduce future risks and strengthen the economic and physical resilience of people and infrastructure assets.

Many of these issues are not easily solvable. For instance, redundancy in the transport network, while ideal, may not always be possible due to land availability or budgetary constraints. However, as Paradise recovers, therein lies an opportunity to heed the lessons learned to not only build road infrastructure in a way that better addresses evacuation capacity limits, but also integrates institutional learning into planning going forward.

The Transport Sector Recovery: Opportunities to Build Resilience guidance note aims to frame critical recovery considerations for the transport sector. It is meant to help transport officials, community planners, the private sector and elected officials understand the scope of recovery and entry points for turning the recovery period into an opportunity to build transport network resilience to better serve current and anticipated future community needs.

Specifically, this note offers:  
  1. Overarching principles to help government officials think through opportunities for building resilience through the transport network. For example, the note highlights the importance of building back roads in a way that improves equitable access to current and anticipated economic opportunities.

  2. Guidance for setting up the governance and financial foundations for delivering a well-planned and organized recovery of the affected transport network. For example, the note provides critical insights into how to identify and prioritize physical damages and corresponding economic losses, in preparation for the development of an effective transport recovery plan.

  3. Guidance for thinking through the activities required to restore critical transport infrastructure. For instance, the note tackles how to manage the labor and material needs in order to conduct the design, engineering and construction that may be required.

  4. Suggestions for investing in preparedness measures and infrastructure strengthening, which in the long run prove to be more cost-effective than addressing transport planning deficiencies and infrastructure failures as they happen. For example, the note includes a list of activities government officials might consider as they prepare for future disasters and climate change impacts.
For more detailed guidance and case study examples, please check out the Transport Sector Recovery: Opportunities to Build Resilience guidance note and watch our video Q&A on this critical publication. When government officials and other key stakeholders in the recovery process have the right tools and information, we’re hopeful that communities everywhere will be well-positioned to build back stronger, faster and more inclusively.

Learn more:  


Melody Benavidez

Senior Urban Resilience Consultant in the Global Urban and Rural Resilience Unit

Akiko Toya

Disaster Risk Management (DRM) Specialist

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