The changes in the weather are causing far-reaching yet associated changes in the labor market. Jobs that were once regarded as niche and an emergency service or disaster-related, are now everyday concerns.
It was previously essential for authorities to have an engineering team on hand and available to respond after a natural or weather disaster. They would be involved in the rescue, rebuilding and assessment of how to improve the resultant environment for future similar weather events. We now need these teams on a more regular basis than ever before. This article will discuss why changes in weather have increased the demand for these engineering jobs.
Global Weather Changes
Over the last 50 years or so, the frequency of serious weather events has increased. Severe storm systems are now more common, and the research shows that this will only continue to be the case. The debate whether this is caused by global warming is for another read, but the numbers are clear, and there have been more storms in the USA in recent times. Tropical cyclones are now expected to batter the coastal areas of the country in what has become an annual lottery as to which area will be hit next.
From coast to coast, from the Northeast to the Mid-West, we are being faced with an assortment of weather that is devastating communities. In fact, the US accounts for one third of global economic losses caused by weather, climate and water hazards. The total global losses form weather-related disasters and damage was $258 billion in 2020, and $417 billion in 2017. The top threats are hurricanes and flooding, but who knows how much this will increase in the years to come.
The increase in these weather events has meant an increase in the number of emergencies. While there are early warning systems and people generally manage to escape, there are occasions where rescue and emergency services are required, and then subsequent health care and support with rebuilding efforts. From what was essentially an infrequent emergency event, with little warning we now have much more frequent events to contend with.
This should be a call to arms for engineers and builders alike, as it is clear that the terms of reference have changed. With changes in the way we build, live and design civil engineering aspects like roads, bridges, electrical and telecommunication networks, the expected deluge, or high winds can be designed for, and a level of predictability and security maintained.
The Effect on Engineering and Architecture
The weather changes as aforementioned may not stay on the top of the media’s agenda if they occur at a higher rate and fewer and fewer fatalities occur. However, the damage to lifestyles, homes, buildings and the severe effects on the built environment, mean that engineering processes and practices need to change.
In the past, the main engineering needs were for the repair and reopening of civil engineering systems and the rebuilding of homes. It was an infrequent occurrence. The need is now ongoing as we see engineering teams moving across the country repairing and fixing damage in what seems like an ongoing race against the weather. The argument in engineering circles is whether the sector response should thus be moving more towards changes in the way we build. The move is now for engineering solutions for adaptation rather than for mitigation. It’s a more proactive approach to an unpredictable natural phenomenon.
Increased demand for engineers and builders
This is one of the spin-off effects of the increase in severe weather. This isn’t only for ongoing repairs, if you consider that there are so many severe weather events across the US on a regular basis. The repairs are ongoing and seem to take place the entire time from one event to the next - it has been normalized. Then there will also be the need for engineers, architects and civil engineers to be involved in the future planning of improved urban and suburban areas. Therefore, securing a professional engineering degree will stand you in good stead for the future in the sense that it is now clear that the demand is there. Being able to manage both the response to, and the anticipation of, severe weather episodes is a skill that will be in demand. Engineering management combined with data analytics and advanced project management will be the top skills required and it is thus an interesting time in the sector.
Innovation, scenario planning and sustainability
There is a definite need for innovation in the use of different more storm-proof, or environmentally friendly materials that will then be more able to deal with the challenging conditions. A great engineering example to emulate is Japan where in areas that are earthquake-prone, building materials are used protect buildings and citizens. The large-scale production of homes that are fireproof, hurricane-proof and flood-proof are the engineering challenges of the present and the future.
There are one-off templates, and every so often a press release on the newest hurricane-proof homes or rebuilds on higher ground after floods without actually dealing with the civil engineering repairs to flood defenses and levies. These innovative solutions are required in bulk and after the recent storm Ida, it is clear that homes that will withstand what nature is throwing at us are essential and should form a large part of engineering solutions going forward.
Engineering is but one of the aspects of emergency care and provision that are required after severe weather events. It is a professional field that is one part of the equation. Early warning systems to prepare communities and better infrastructure are needed to prepare for what is now inevitable. Though the scale of the intensification of weather patterns is undetermined, that the climate will worse is commonly accepted in the scientific community. But where there are challenges, there are opportunities, especially in the engineering field.