September 30, 2022

Credit: Unsplash/CC0 Public Domain

Transportation systems play a critical role in maintaining supply chains for effective disaster recovery. The March 2020 COVID-19 lockdowns coincided with a 5.7 magnitude earthquake in Salt Lake City, Utah, causing supply chain disruptions across the region. A team of researchers worked with local agencies and transport organizations to use this event and the community’s response to evaluate the challenges local entrepreneurs face and the actions they have taken to manage the disruptions. Their new report assesses the potential economic impact of a catastrophic earthquake in the Salt Lake City region, with a view to helping small and medium-sized businesses increase their resilience.


Divya Chandrasekhar and Sua Kim of the University of Utah’s (UU) City & Metropolitan Planning Department teamed up with John Downen and Joshua Spolsdoff of UU’s Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute to survey local businesses about their post-disaster recovery efforts of March 2020. The researchers noted that while the events of March 2020 increased risk awareness among companies, they did not translate into concrete preparedness or mitigation measures. Based on the findings of this study, the authors propose the following actions to build future economic resilience along the Wasatch Front:

  • Increasing pre-disaster investment in resilient transportation infrastructure to lower the cost of eventual recovery;
  • Improving business resilience for high-impact industrial sectors through education and outreach;
  • Identifying structural barriers to adopting resilient business practices and promoting mitigation through recovery.
  • Mainstreaming disaster resilience into economic development by breaking the silo approach to emergency management and economic development.

Breaking through the silos is the key. A primary focus of this project was to develop partnerships between the university, the community and the transport organizations and policy authorities in the region. Partners in this project include the Utah Division of Emergency Management, the Wasatch Front Regional Council, the Utah Inland Port Authority and the University of Utah.

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Why do this research?

“The genesis of this project was a conversation I had a few years ago with some FEMA colleagues in Region 8 who were wondering how we could do some more logistics-related research that would help them with their planning. The big question was, how are supply chains affected when we have this big earthquake?” said Chandrasekhar.

According to the Utah Seismic Safety Commission, the Salt Lake City segment of the Wasatch Fault is overdue for a “Big One” (an M7.0 seismic event) that last occurred 1,400 years ago. In the wake of an earthquake of that magnitude, the Wasatch Front is likely to experience a near-term economic loss of $33 billion, including $24.9 billion in direct building-related (capital) loss, $6.9 billion in loss of income and $1.4 billion in lifeline-related damage including transportation facilities.

Modeling the potential economic impact of transportation-related disruptions is an important step in advancing pre-event community-wide recovery and resilience planning. However, the existing supply chain and economic impact models are prohibitively expensive and too sophisticated for use by government agencies with limited resources. Therefore, the UU team focused their efforts on small and medium-sized enterprises, giving us a better understanding of how these enterprises adapt to transport disruptions after a disaster and what they can do to prepare for similar events.

In addition to expanding our understanding of small business disaster resilience, this study also develops an affordable analytical framework that planners and policymakers in high-risk areas can use to make data-driven decisions about transportation and planning for economic resilience.

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The research

In the first phase of the project, the team integrated the results of three commonly used models (Hazus, the Wasatch Front Travel Demand Model and REMI PI+) to identify the industrial sectors expected to be most affected by transport loss at an M7.0 earthquake scenario. They found that about 70% of Wasatch Front’s regional economy falls into some of the hardest hit sectors. They then estimate travel delays, damage to roads and bridges, and other potential effects on the regional economy. Detailed results of each analysis are available in Chapter 2 of the final report.

In the second phase, the team surveyed 130 Salt Lake City companies in the top 10 worst-affected industrial sectors identified in Phase 1 to understand how they are currently coping with supply disruptions due to COVID-19 and how they are prepared for the future. earthquakes. Companies reported a significant impact on supply chain management and production costs as a result of the disasters. Utah companies have taken a range of measures to manage these disruptions, including adjusting capital expenditures and diversifying suppliers within and outside the city. While the disaster experience had increased awareness and confidence in preparing for the future, most companies indicated that they had taken few concrete mitigation and preparedness measures.

What can local entrepreneurs do?

Chandrasekhar identified several actions that small and medium-sized businesses can take to prevent future disasters. Knowing your hazard risk and exposure is important, she says, and so is the condition of your building. For example, many buildings in Utah have unreinforced masonry, which poses a serious risk.

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Other actions include taking out business interruption insurance; having a disaster plan (for example, a data recovery plan in the event of digital data loss); and being familiar with your own supply chain: knowing where your goods come from and what can affect their journey. Chandrasekhar also advises companies to take advantage of the resources that local and government agencies can provide. For example, the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Opportunity and the Be Ready Utah Initiative provide assistance in disaster planning for business continuity, an opportunity many business owners may not be aware of.

The study highlights the need for high-risk communities to identify high-risk industrial sectors and do targeted disaster management and awareness-raising in these sectors.


Actions for economic resilience help companies avoid losses when disaster strikes


More information:
Estimation of the economic impact of transport-related supply chain disruptions in the post-earthquake environment

For a more detailed overview of the findings, view a recorded July 22 webinar with the principal investigator, UU’s Dr. Divya Chandrasekhar.

Provided by National Institute of Transport and Communities

Quote: Disaster Recovery: A Collaborative University/Community Model (2022, August 11) Retrieved August 11, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-08-recovery-disasters-collaborative-universitycommunity.html

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