Workers repair power lines in the Mid-Atlantic shortly after Hurricane Sandy. | Photo courtesy of the Energy Department.
This week marks the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy making landfall in New Jersey. Although communities came together with the help of federal and state efforts to rebuild quickly in the aftermath, many people are still suffering from the effects of that life-changing event today, and the estimated overall economic cost totals $65 billion.
Our commitment to a full recovery remains unwavering. But even as we continue to work with those communities today, it is valuable to assess the lessons learned from this natural disaster so that we can rebuild stronger, more resilient communities that are better prepared for any future extreme weather.
The Administration’s response to Hurricane Sandy began while the massive storm was still gaining strength in the Atlantic Ocean. From day one, President Obama made clear that the federal government was committed to delivering timely assistance in the recovery and rebuilding from Hurricane Sandy. As the President said, there would be zero tolerance for red tape.
We took that to heart. After human health and safety, restoring power and our fuel supplies was a top priority. The Energy Department, in conjunction with FEMA and other federal agencies, worked around the clock to support the affected states and utilities and identify, assess and facilitate restoration of key energy facilities and infrastructure.
The Department’s actions supported “boots on the ground” efforts that included deploying personnel to the National and Regional Response Coordination Centers as well as working with the Department’s Power Marketing Administrations to send personnel and equipment to help repair power lines and damaged substations. In the area of fuel supplies, the Department acted quickly and coordinated with other federal agencies responsible for issuing fuel flexibility waivers and other appropriate permits to help enable faster response times. For the first time, diesel fuel from the Northeast Home Heating Oil Reserve was released for use by emergency responders, generators and emergency equipment and buildings, as well as to alleviate fuel shortages in Connecticut.
In the year since the storm, we have continued investing in grid modernization to improve outage management capabilities that reduce outage and restoration times, and to protect and strengthen critical energy infrastructure. We have continued working to help the region become more resilient and better prepared. Recognizing that grid resilience involves an all-hazards approach that is a shared responsibility among federal agencies and state, local and industry partners, we have worked to further strengthen our partnerships. We are providing technical assistance to states and municipalities to help stretch the dollars available for Sandy recovery, facilitating information sharing among our partners so we take to heart the lessons learned, and helping to ensure Sandy recovery energy investments are resilient.
In August, the Department partnered with New Jersey Transit and the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU) to assess New Jersey Transit’s energy needs and assist in its efforts to enhance the reliability and resiliency of electricity used for its rail and system operations. The Department has also partnered with the City of Hoboken to help design a more reliable grid there as well. Working with the oil and gas industry, we are identifying best practices to help minimize future impacts to the liquid fuels supply chain, of the kind experienced during the Sandy aftermath.
The Department is also taking further action to protect our energy infrastructure by creating an integrated resilience program that leverages our expertise in emergency response, risk assessment and longer-term vulnerabilities management.
Addressing climate change is a top priority for the Administration and my Department. We know that severe weather is the leading cause of power outages in the United States. In the order of magnitude of the damage, eight of the top 10 hurricanes occurred in the last decade. Power outages resulting from increasingly intense weather conditions close schools, shut down businesses and impede emergency services, costing the economy billions of dollars and disrupting the lives of millions of Americans. We must be prepared for storms of increasing intensity and frequency.
A resilient energy infrastructure that can recover quickly from a severe weather event is a core requirement for this climate adaptation. Through strong partnerships, we can make important progress developing a more resilient energy infrastructure and stronger, more resilient communities in New Jersey, New York, and across the nation that are better prepared to face and recover from future events.