Research & Innovation

A Superstorm Sandy Report Card: Experts Talk Recovery and Resiliency at City of Water Day Summit at Stevens

The ongoing recovery efforts post-Superstorm Sandy was the topic of the City of Water Day Regional Resiliency Summit, “A Superstorm Sandy Report Card,” held at Stevens on July 19, 2013. In front of a packed crowd of attendees, panels of experts from industry, government and academia discussed their visions for an integrated regional approach against future storm events that focus on resiliency and livability.

“One thing Superstorm Sandy brought to light was that all of us in the region are connected by one half mile of water – the Hudson River,” said Dr. Alan Blumberg, Director of the Davidson Laboratory and Center for Maritime Systems at Stevens. “Researchers at Stevens have been studying storm science, beach erosion, harbor protection and coastal planning for generations. Hosting this discussion with some of the metropolitan area’s biggest influencers is yet another critical step in achieving our shared goal of building more resilient coastlines on both sides of the Hudson.”

The summit was organized by the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance (MWA), a non-profit agency devoted to making New York-New Jersey harbors, ports and waterways cleaner and more accessible, and sponsored by Parsons Brinkerhoff, a leader in developing and operating infrastructure around the world. The event was held in association with the MWA’s 6th annual City of Water Day Festival, the largest harbor festival in the metropolitan region, which took place at Liberty State Park, Governor's Island and other waterfront locations and featured boat tours, live music, a cardboard kayak race, food vendors, children's activities, and more.

“Superstorm Sandy reminded us that we are truly a City of Water,” said Roland Lewis, President and CEO of the MWA. “In the wake of the storm, we must work to make our shoreline resilient, but we must also be sure to continue to revitalize our harbor and waterways for education, recreation and jobs.”

The event began with a keynote speech by New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) Commissioner Bob Martin, who called for an approach to rebuilding that prioritizes long-term planning.

“We need to make sure New Jersey rebuilds with long-term resiliency as our primary goal,” he said.

According to Martin, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s administration is prioritizing five major actions in its recovery, rebuilding and planning efforts:  transforming New Jersey’s beaches into complete coastal protection systems; buying out properties and areas where flooding occurs on a constant basis and constitute areas of harm for residents; using Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) maps to regulate and guide the rebuilding of homes, businesses and boardwalks;  increasing power resiliency and supply by better protecting our utilities; and improving the state’s water infrastructure, which suffered almost $3 billion in storm damage.

During the two panel sessions that followed, official representatives from major governmental organizations from both New York and New Jersey discussed how their agencies are progressing on storm recovery initiatives and also shared their own resiliency plans and best practices. In addition, industry and academic leaders shared resilience expertise related to climate change and flood mitigation, and commented on how the public sector can move forward to build a stronger region.

Peter Zipf, Chief Engineer for the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey (PANYNJ), said advanced and informed engineering and design will be critical to the full recovery and smart rebuilding of the region’s transportation systems. One of his primary concerns for the PANYNJ in particular is improving the resiliency of its electrical systems, which were devastated by the storm

“We saw firsthand that our systems had robust structural integrity, but we need to improve that on the electrical side,” he said.

For Colonel Paul Owen, Commander of the New York District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the most pressing need is to repair and complete existing Corps projects, and then get both the authorization and appropriation to move onto other vulnerable areas which were impacted by Superstorm Sandy, including Hoboken. 

Daniel Zarrilli, Director of Resiliency for the City of New York, said the Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration is focusing on preparing the city for the many unforeseen impacts of a changing climate, including higher wind speeds, changing temperatures, major precipitation events and rising sea levels.

“It’s critical we think about what could happen in the future and what the risks to the city’s infrastructure could be,” said Zarrilli, who helped to develop Bloomberg’s “A Stronger, More Resilient New York,” a major climate change protection report to which Stevens researchers also contributed research and expertise.

Other panelists at the summit included: Michele Siekerka, Assistant Commissioner for Water Resource Management for the NJDEP; Gerry Petrella, Director of Economic Development for New York Senator Charles Schumer; Philip Orton, Stevens Research Scientist; Klaus Jacob, Columbia Professor; Larry Gillman, Vice President of Operations at Skanska USA Civil Northeast; Jonathan Goldskick, Vice President of CH2M Hill; Kate Orff, Founder of SCAPE; Mike Flood, Senior Supervising Planner at Parsons Brinkerhoff; and Andrew Cairns, Ports and Marine Regional Lead at AECOM.