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TEDxFIU in Review: Richard Olson on natural disasters and second cities


In 2012, the United States saw its second most costly year to insurers, in large part due to natural disasters like Superstorm Sandy, which devastated parts of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

This was not a surprise to Professor Richard Olson, an expert in disaster risk and preparedness. In fact, it supports what he’s spent his career telling people: building big cities puts our people and our countries at risk of catastrophic loss. His solution: second cities.

“We need to create national tiers of second cities. They need to be safer, they need to be vital,” said Olson at TEDxFIU. “In many countries, if you lose the lead city, the country goes down. Second cities would spread the risk.”

Olson used a series of maps to show what lies beneath the typical colorful political-boundary maps commonly seen in textbooks. He shows that the placement of natural disasters follows a known pattern, and explains that risks can be mitigated by strategically placing cities and core functions.

“Natural disasters. It trips off the tongue,” he said. “But natural disasters? Not so much. Natural events? Yes. Nature provides those. But the disasters, what we put in harm’s way, well, that’s on us.”

Watch Olson’s full TEDxFIU talk below:

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