Major Infrastructure Disasters that Could have Been Avoided with Maintenance

Infrastructure disasters are an all-too-common occurrence, both here in the United States and throughout the world. In 2018, the Florida International University pedestrian bridge collapse claimed at least nine lives. In 2013, a portion of the bridge carrying Interstate 5 over the Skagit River in Washington State collapsed. Miraculously, there were no injuries. Bridges are by no means the only vulnerable structures. In times of natural disaster – take, for example, Hurricane Katrina – we’ve seen the consequences of flawed infrastructure. That storm caused more than 50 levees and floodwalls to fail, flooding 80 percent of New Orleans and all of St. Bernard Parish.

Many of these types of disasters, both man-made and natural, could have been lessened if not prevented had more careful attention been paid to the ongoing maintenance of these structures. A preventative maintenance program can go a long way toward keeping infrastructure in good working order. Additionally, such programs help governments and corporations keep their expenses in check since routine inspections and maintenance are far less expensive than major repairs, overhauls, or disasters.

Maintenance as Disaster Preparedness

Let’s take a look at a few high-profile disasters and examine how preventative maintenance could have either reduced their severity or stopped them from occurring in the first place.

New Orleans During Hurricane Katrina

In the years following Hurricane Katrina, experts have determined that the breakage of levees and flood walls protecting the city of New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish were due to a series of failures. In at least one parish, the flooding was attributed directly to maintenance issues: “The primary mechanism of failure for the levees protecting St. Bernard Parish was overtopping due to negligent maintenance.”

Bridge Collapses

Thirteen people were killed in a bridge collapse in Minnesota in 2007, and while a design flaw ultimately was blamed for the disaster, further inspection revealed that lax and deferred maintenance didn’t help. The event sparked a national conversation about America’s ailing infrastructure, with more than 100 bridges needing repair or replacement. Regular preventative maintenance can detect the presence of minor issues before they become major problems – and it could possibly help uncover design flaws the likes of which caused the Minnesota tragedy.

Kelly Barnes Dam Disaster

In 1977 the Kelly Barnes Dam in Georgia failed, killing 39 people. The United States has witnessed a number of dam disasters over the years due to many reasons including design flaws, criminal negligence, and in this case, probably age. Sadly, the dam had no plans on record. In fact, the only accounts of its construction were based on pictures and newspaper articles. In many of these cases, a schedule of ongoing and routine maintenance may have averted disaster – for example, the Buffalo Creek flood in West Virginia in 1972, where criminal negligence leading to a wastewater flood.

Flint, Michigan

The Flint water crisis continues to make national headlines as one of the greatest infrastructure failures in recent times. Flint residents relied upon unsafe drinking water for several years until an investigation revealed a major public disaster. An inspection of the pipes connected to the new water source before switching would have identified the lead issue.

Preventative Maintenance: A Necessary Expense

Maintenance is not just about repairing things that need fixing. It’s about knowing what needs fixing and how urgent the maintenance is. Regular preventative maintenance can also detect design flaws in time to prevent major faults.

Government funds are limited, as are corporate funds. That’s a big factor behind the reluctance to invest in preventative maintenance. However, preventative maintenance is one of the best investments anyone can make. It’s important to note that not all equipment failures result in loss of life. Some merely cost money and time. However, every preventable failure is an expense that wasn’t necessary. It’s money that could have been used for other priorities.

While natural disasters can’t be prevented, design flaws and poor maintenance exacerbate the toll they can take. We can take precautions that in the long run can reduce the severity of damage to our infrastructure. Routine maintenance isn’t difficult to keep up with, provided you have the right system in place. Asset tracking software allows you to set up notifications and alerts for scheduled maintenance, warranty expiration dates, calibration deadlines and more. You can also create your own custom milestones and schedules and access complete maintenance histories, dates, service company contacts, and costs – all through a single, easy-to-use app on your smartphone or tablet.

Disaster planning, of course, is by no means limited to government entities. Every organization should be tracking and managing their vital assets and keeping up with routine maintenance. Failure to do so can result in great loss to both the organization and the public it serves. Twenty-five percent of businesses who experience a natural disaster don’t operate again afterward, so preparation is imperative. If you don’t have an emergency response plan in place, now is the time. Additionally, you’ll want to ensure that you’ve got a detailed list of everything you own; 30 percent of businesses don’t know what they own, where their assets are located, or who is using them. Make sure you also have a business recovery plan – it can help you bounce back faster in the event a natural disaster strikes.

Find out what Asset Panda can do to help you stay on top of maintenance, maximize the lifespan of your vital assets, and keep your business prepared for anything that comes your way.


Courtney Roush

Courtney Roush is a freelance writer, editor, and communications strategist with 25 years of experience. Her favorite discipline is crisis communications – and it’s a highly relevant one in our present times.

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