New York takes measures to improve the strength and resilience of the Empire State’s Infrastructure

Written by Elena Collins on 16 January 2013

Three months after Hurricane Sandy hit New York, a commission formed to investigate how the city could be more resilient, officially released it’s finding last week from the office of Andrew Cuomo of New York state, who established the commission.

Damage caused by Hurricane Sandy

On November 15, 2012, Governor Andrew Cuomo convened the NYS2100 Commission in response to the recent, and unprecedented, severe weather events experienced by New York State and the surrounding region: most recently, Super storm Sandy, Hurricane Irene, and Tropical Storm Lee.

The commission officially released its recommendations last week. The 205 page report examine and evaluate key vulnerabilities in the State’s critical infrastructure systems, and recommend actions that should be taken to strengthen and improve the resilience of those systems. The document includes short and long-term protections in transportation and energy infrastructure. Whilst specific recommendations such as using natural barriers to protect New York harbor and Long Island have been suggested. Others suggestions include roll-down gates and inflatable barriers to keep floodwaters out of subways.

The report is divided into five sector-specific areas and have a series of recommendations. Below is a brief overview on each section.

Transportation

The report states New York needs to develop a risk assessment of the State’s transportation infrastructure. Examples have been given that subways and electronics sensitive to saltwater need to be waterproofed whilst existing transportation networks needed to strengthened. Transit systems and tunnels need protecting against severe flooding, investment in upgrades to bridges, tunnels, roads and 
railroads for all hazards is desired and strengthening vulnerable highway and rail bridges is recommended.

Energy

Securing critical infrastructure should be a primary focus. The report argued that burying key energy lines underground to reduce damage from downed wires is necessary. New York energy grid needs adapting which should include upgrades to transition the grid to a flexible system that can respond to future technologies, support clean energy integration, and minimize outages during major storms and events.

Back up power is another key issue in terms of resilience. Well-stocked and disaster-protected safe havens with generators in schools, hospitals and government buildings as well as big-box stores and shopping malls willing to be sanctuaries in exchange for incentives and support.

Land Use

The land use focuses specifically on immediate actions to restore and mitigate coastal infrastructure to protect communities, and on strategies for using natural as well as engineered measures to improve resilience. Suggestions to protect coastal and Great Lakes communities ranges from repairing hard infrastructure along the coast, protect wastewater infrastructure and restore coastal wetlands.

Insurance and Infrastructure Finance

Superstorm Sandy demonstrated the strengths and limitations of the insurance system in New York State and the surrounding region. The report wants to promote investment in risk mitigation and improve consumer awareness. At the same time the commission recommends the establishment of a new Infrastructure Bank with a broad mandate to coordinate financing and directly finance the construction, rehabilitation, replacement, and expansion of infrastructure.

As New York puts together preparations to become more resilient, there are many lessons to be learnt from other cities which have learnt to cope with flooding.

Rotterdam's Water plaza
Rotterdam's Water plaza

Rotterdam has a long history of flooding, surrounded by water on all sides and around 90 percent of the city is below sea level, with some areas up to five to six metres below. The city has a number of innovative measures, to cope with the risk of flooding including the building of facilities to absorb water. Strategies range from underground car parks that store up to a 10,000 cubic metre of underground rainwater to “Water plazas” which operate as playgrounds when dry and temporarily hold water during heavy rain, before slowly releasing it to the drainage system. Furthermore, rooftop gardens are also being encouraged in the city, as they absorb both rain and CO₂.

Rotterdam’s unusual situation demonstrated that innovative techniques can be adopted in the built environment to make neighbourhoods resilient and prepared for disaster. However, a strategy of resilience will involve more than changes to physical infrastructure. The New York report demonstrated that exchange of knowledge, and political and stakeholder leadership is needed for implementation of truly innovative solutions.

To encourage urban resilience, World Cities Network in partnership with New York City, Department Design & Construction will gather built environment leaders for one day in February  to discuss and explore ways to accelerate the development of smart energy infrastructure.

This workshop is the first of a series of global events organised by World Cities Network during 2013 that will strengthen the capacity of public and private sector leaders in cities as they take action to improve the built environment. World Cities Network will be keeping readers up to date this month with all the latest New York news and workshop participants in anticipation of the event.

To read the full New York report click here

Categories: Governance, Risk, Funding, Energy and water, Regulation, New York