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Good riddance, Sandy. Hello sea barriers?

Individuals and government have done much that is praiseworthy in the recovery effort following superstorm Sandy. But what should be done to prevent the next disaster?

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President Obama and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie symbolized that federal and state officials can work together in harmony (and across party lines). For its part, the US military has already mobilized 12,000 National Guard troops in a dozen states. The US Army Corps of Engineers is hard at work assessing damage to infrastructure, and the Pentagon says it’s ready to step in further with manpower and equipment as needed.

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And at least so far, the Federal Emergency Management Agency seems to be operating much better than it did during Katrina.

But even as these emergency efforts continue, it’s not too early to ask: How do we minimize such disasters in the future? Cities along the Atlantic Coast from Philadelphia to Boston must reassess their plans to protect their cities from storms. Washington, D.C., built on a low-lying swamp, must ponder how to protect its vital federal buildings and iconic monuments. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has already said that government must begin to think about new ways to defend New York from what may be increasingly frequent superstorms.

 IN PICTURES: Sandy: Chronicle of an unrelenting storm

“Our climate is changing,” New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg says. “And while the increase in extreme weather we have experienced in New York City and around the world may or may not be the result of it, the risk that it may be – given the devastation it is wreaking – should be enough to compel all elected leaders to take immediate action.”

The likelihood that sea levels will continue to rise and severe storms will pummel the East Coast more frequently should start new conversations about possible solutions. Should all those shorefront homes destroyed by Sandy be rebuilt, with the possibility of being demolished in a future storm? Should New York or other American cities install sea barriers, such as those in St. Petersburg, Russia, and the Netherlands?

Such multibillion-dollar projects may at first look hard to justify. But Sandy just handed New York City a cleanup bill sure to tally in the billions. An infrastructure project that would keep future storms out of the Big Apple might prove to be cost-effective insurance.

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