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Philadelphia: Natural Disasters and Health Emergencies Research Paper

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Updated: Jun 16th, 2022

Hazard analysis is the foundational step in developing a successful emergency response plan (ERP). Before considering the methods of mitigation and response, it is essential to evaluate the potential risks to determine what types of emergencies need to be addressed first. However, even before that, it is necessary to conduct a careful analysis to identify communities at risk. This paper will discuss one particular region that deserves more attention concerning emergency preparedness describing the most prominent dangers it is susceptible to.

Many states in the USA are known to be highly vulnerable to natural disasters. While Pennsylvania is not among them, it has a long history of natural hazards (White, 2019). Moreover, if discussing the city of Philadelphia in particular, there are some disasters, including tornadoes, it is more susceptible to than Pennsylvania, in general (Philadelphia, PA natural disasters and weather extremes, n.d.) [see Appendix A]. Most importantly, the state is also described to be at high climate change risks, especially the ones associated with heavy precipitation and extreme heat (Kermanshah et al., 2019; Barron et al., 2018). Hence, since Pennsylvania, in general, and Philadelphia, in particular, are not among the most “at-risk” regions, such as California or Texas, they may not be receiving enough attention in terms of emergency preparedness, which they undoubtfully need. The potential dangers associated with climate change require particular consideration.

There are several natural disasters that Philadelphia is susceptible to, including hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes. Without any doubt, the city already has developed response plans to these well-known hazards. The administration, however, may not be as prepared for the exacerbation of the existing dangers (such as tornadoes) caused by climate change. For instance, one study assessed the climate change-related risks associated with changes in precipitation patterns (Kermanshah et al., 2017). The researchers point out that the vulnerability of Philadelphia’s road systems “to rainfall-induced flash floods” is significantly higher than of other US cities (Kermanshah et al., 2017, p. 2647). This might indicate the need to reexamine and, presumably, improve the level of preparedness of Philadelphia’s urban infrastructure for the increased risk of flash floods. If the level of precipitation that has already been rising in recent decades will increase, even more, there would be a risk of frequent sewage overflows. They, in turn, would not only harm the city’s infrastructure but might also be detrimental to public health, contributing to the spread of diseases – a danger worth particular consideration during the COVID-19 crisis.

There is also another potential danger associated with climate change that should be carefully assessed in order to develop an effective response plan. In recent decades, Philadelphia saw an increase in “extreme heat events”, a fact that is predicted to be even more exacerbated by climate change (Barron et al., 2018). There are areas of the city with an evident lack of trees linked to an increased vulnerability to heatwaves [see Appendix B]. This trend raises serious public health concerns since there are many conditions (such as heart disease, poor blood circulation, and obesity) and age groups (people of young or old age) particularly vulnerable to the negative consequences associated with extreme heat events (Mayo Clinic, n.d.). If due to the negative influence of climate change, there would be even more such cases, heat-related mortality is likely to increase. Therefore, adjusting urban infrastructure to minimize the negative consequences should be among the top concerns of Philadelphia’s administration. Moreover, the Meteorological Service should provide accurate predictions in advance, warning vulnerable citizens about the potential dangers. During the risk days, medical services should always be prepared to provide the necessary help.

However, apart from public health emergencies that might be induced by climate change, there are also dangers related to social problems that need to be urgently addressed. Philadelphia has been long known as a city with an affluent drug market leading to multiple overdose crises (Whelan, 2020). Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the borders were closed, and there were expected to be some disruptions in the supply chain. Experts say that while the drug market has quickly recovered from the initial shock, the quality of drugs might have suffered significantly (Whelan, 2020). Therefore, this poses a significant danger to public health, particularly these days, during the COVID-19 crisis. Apart from the overdose risks, increasingly more people may also become vulnerable to the low-quality heroin that would lead to added pressure on the already overburdened medical system.

Moreover, high rates of opioid addiction, in general, while disturbing by themselves, during the global pandemic might also contribute to a rapid and uncontrollable spread of the disease. Reused needles, multiple untraceable meetings of users and dealers, and other factors related to high rates of drug consumption may exacerbate the current health crisis. Therefore, it is essential that not only the risks associated with natural disasters but also health emergencies induced by drug use are regularly assessed and planned for.

To conclude, while Philadelphia is not among the US cities that most frequently suffer from natural disasters, some hazards occur relatively often. Climate change is expected to exacerbate the patterns of natural disasters, increasing the number of risks Philadelphia is exposed to. The most often reported potential dangers to include flash floods and extreme heat. Both problems require careful assessment and cooperative work of meteorologists, urban planners, and medical experts to prevent negative consequences for public health. High rates of opioid addiction also indicate the risk of a health emergency, particularly threatening during the COVID-19 pandemic.

References

Barron, L., Ruggieri, D., & Branas, C. (2018). Assessing vulnerability to heat: a geospatial analysis for the city of Philadelphia. Urban Science, 2(2), 38. Web.

Kermanshah, A., Derrible, S., & Berkelhammer, M. (2017). Using climate models to estimate urban vulnerability to flash floods. Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology, 56(9), 2637-2650.

Philadelphia, PA natural disasters and weather extremes. (n.d.). USA Location information – USA.com. Web.

White, M. (2019). Moving.com.

Whelan, A. (2020). . The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Mayo Clinic (n.d.). . Mayoclinic.org.

Appendix A

A Comparison of Tornado Index between Philadelphia
Figure 1. A Comparison of Tornado Index between Philadelphia, PA, Pennsylvania, and the US. Note: The graph illustrates that the risk of tornadoes in Philadelphia, PA, is higher than the average of Pennsylvania and the US. Reprinted from Philadelphia, PA natural disasters and weather extremes. (n.d.). USA Location information – USA.com.

Appendix B

Cumulative Vulnerability for Heat and Street Trees by Neighborhood
Figure 2. Cumulative Vulnerability for Heat and Street Trees by Neighborhood. Note: This picture illustrates the most vulnerable areas of the city. Reprinted from Barron, L., Ruggieri, D., & Branas, C. (2018). Assessing Vulnerability to Heat: A Geospatial Analysis for the City of Philadelphia. Urban Science, 2(2), 38.
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