Designing for Catastrophe (Permaculture)

Friday 7-13-2012

One important aspect of permaculture design is to design for catastrophe. You want your design to lessen the chance of a fire, flood, or hurricane destroying your home and landscape. As gardeners and designers, we can include certain elements in our design to lessen the impact of these disasters.


I looked up major disaster declarations in PA on the FEMA website, and I was surprised at the amount of disasters that seem to be occurring much more frequently than the past. This in my opinion makes it even more important to design resilient disaster proof gardens and farms.


1994-2012= 25 disaster declarations in 18 years

1955-1993= 22 disaster declarations in 38 years


Most likely environmental catastrophes in my area

1. Severe storms

2. Flooding

3. Severe winter storms

4. Hurricanes


Severe rain storms can bring about high winds and flooding. This can cause property damage, loss of life, power outages, and loss of nature such as trees breaking. We had a major flood in 2011, where many roads were closed due to flooding. Many people lost their homes because of the flooding and the resulting mold and mildew infestations. Some lost their lives, many lost power for an extended amount of time. I saw houses with large trees that fell on them. With the heavy amounts of rain and wind, many trees were simply uprooted and violently placed on their side. Many of these trees still hang on to life this way, they were never put upright. I remember driving in downtown Lebanon and seeing the sewers overflowing and forcing the manhole covers up. We were fortunate being on the middle of the hill to stay dry.


Severe snowstorms do occur here occasionally as well. The damage is similar to the rain storms. Heavy ice and snow can cause power outages and damage to trees. People that are homebound can be caught in their home without heat if the power goes out, and they need electricity for heat or to fire their furnace. Heavy snow and ice can also cause roof damage to houses, especially those houses with poor air sealed attics.


Design elements to consider to reduce the impact of disaster

1. Windbreaks

2. Swales and berms to enhance water holding capabilities

3. Ponds to enhance water holding capabilities

4. A good pitched roof to shed snow and rain

5. The use of heavy materials in construction such as concrete formed walls and metal roofs to reduce damage from wind.

6. Certain species of trees such as mulberries, oaks, willows, poplars, and maples are fire resistant. These can be planted densely with succulent groundcovers and shrubs to form a dense firebreak.

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