USA Banner

Official US Government Icon

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure Site Icon

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Site Notification

Site Notification

U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

How Are Agencies Making the Transportation System More Resilient?

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Transportation authorities around the world are grappling with ways to deal with the effects of rising sea level and extreme weather events. These events are more frequent and intense, and often cause flooding and destruction of transportation infrastructure.

Two invited speakers at Volpe, The National Transportation Systems Center, provided valuable information for transportation professionals. Volpe's speaker series, Transportation System Resilience, Extreme Weather, and Climate Change brings together distinguished experts to discuss challenges, opportunities, and fresh approaches related to these pressing issues.

Dr. Klauis H. JacobDr. Klaus H. Jacob

Dr. Klaus H. Jacob, one of TIME Magazine’s People Who Mattered in 2012, spoke about his efforts to model the effects of a hypothetical coastal storm with a 100-year storm surge on New York City.

Hurricane Sandy, which struck the northeast in October 2012, was very similar to the storm Dr. Jacob modeled and caused nearly the same effects that he had predicted. As a result, New York public officials, aware of Dr. Jacob’s research, proactively shut down the subway system and erected barriers at some locations to mitigate some of the worst effects of flooding.

Dr. Jacob, a geophysicist and special research scientist at Columbia University, discussed his approach to modeling storm surge and transportation impacts, displaying many of the flood projection maps that were widely available in the popular media.

Key lessons learned from Dr. Jacob’s work are that it is possible to anticipate the effects of extreme weather events with a high level of fidelity, and through preparation, it is possible to mitigate some of the effects.

Dr. Jacob noted that officials within different transportation modes need to take into account sea level rise and climate change when developing strategic plans. His research indicates that sea level rise will accelerate by about six feet by the end of the century.

He argued that transportation systems need to be designed and retrofitted to be adaptively resilient. Until systems become adaptively resilient, robust operational emergency plans and temporary protection measures must be readied for use on very short notice.

“We cannot afford to do nothing,” Dr. Jacob said. He believes that the incurred economic losses resulting from future storms similar to Hurricane Sandy will be four to ten times greater than the costs of implementing transportation resiliency measures.

View the full length video here.

Susanne DesRochesSusanne DesRoches

Susanne DesRoches, assistant chief of Resilience and Sustainability at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ), shared her agency’s experiences in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy.

DesRoches described the effects of the storm on airports, seaports, train tunnels, train stations, and vehicle bridges and tunnels. She discussed how the port authority collected lessons learned from Sandy, set up a storm mitigation and resilience office, and began to implement protective measures.

“We had several weeks of just getting through the emergency part of Sandy, getting back up and running, making sure that everything was functional. Then we in the engineering department took a hard look at what we would need to do cross-agency to increase our flood protection, our generation capacity, etc.,” said DesRoches.

DesRoches discussed how resiliency needs to be part of how the transportation community does business. After Sandy, the port authority put together a list of strategies that could potentially be implemented throughout the agency. DesRoches provided examples of some of those strategies including the installation of a variety of water intrusion protective systems.

Over the long term, the PANYNJ is looking at how to improve its design guidance. So, considering climate stressors such as sea level rise and increased frequency and severity of storms, officials are looking at how to factor this knowledge into improved design of infrastructure, such as airfields or pumping stations.

DesRoches indicated that in the wake of increasing storm surge, elevation is now considered critical. She discussed how the (PANYNJ) is going to add up to 55 inches of height to certain assets, which is an example of one of the important, risk-based approaches being undertaken.

View the full length video here.

An ambulance gets stuck on a street in New York after the storm surge from hurricane Sandy piles sand all over the road.