Natural disasters can be devastating, and they often hit public-facing utilities particularly hard. Utility pipelines are vulnerable to damage from a wide variety of weather, from torrential rains to heavy winds to ice storms.
At Aptus, we install and maintain utility piping on thousands of bridges across the U.S. It’s our job to know when pipelines are susceptible to external forces; natural disasters can leave thousands of civilians and dozens of miles of pipeline in trouble. How can bridge-attached utilities better prepare for natural disasters?
Understand the Regional Threats
By far and away, the best thing bridge operators and utility owners can do is understand the inherent risks of their area. Whether in a tornado-prone part of the country or elevated above a flood plain, bridges must first be shored up to protect the utilities they house. America’s bridge systems are woefully underprepared for weather events, most from age and disrepair.
Part of knowing how to protect bridge-attached utilities is knowing what to protect them from. Wind gales can loosen bolts and rip off supports; floodwaters can cause corrosion to piping and put undue pressure on hangers and other connection points. In many areas, preparing for a “natural disaster” just means taking precaution to overprepare bridge utilities for any inclement weather during installation.
Taking Steps to Protect Utilities
One of the worst byproducts of any natural disaster are downed utilities. People who have been threatened or displaced by weather are often faced with days or even weeks without power, telecommunications, wastewater systems, and other vital utilities. Without these necessities, it can be difficult for individuals – and whole towns – to get back on their feet.
In most situations, it’s not feasible to hurriedly rush to “protect” bridge-attached utilities as a hurricane bares down or a tornado warning is issued. Instead, utility owners should act now to ensure their pipelines are ready for inclement weather. What can be done? In wind-prone areas, special attention should be paid to hanger systems and joints which take the brunt of gust forces. In places where wet weather events are the norm – tropical storms, flooding, etc. – proper corrosion-resistance must be employed on every stretch of a pipeline to keep long-term degradation from occurring after storms. In general, the best protection for any bridge-attached utility is regular inspection and maintenance in addition to modernization where needed (i.e. replacing cast iron piping with coated steel, for example.)
It’s impossible to predict the severity and frequency of natural disasters, but it’s important to do all that you can to minimize their effects. Bridges and their attached utilities are especially vulnerable to harsh weather given their elevated position above ground, but consulting with an expert is the right first step in protecting your area’s most important infrastructure.
The team at Aptus is ready to hear your concerns. Reach out to us today using our online form.