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Spring has come and so has the runoff from record snowmelt and, of course, the anticipation of a new hurricane season. We had numerous tornadoes during the winter, which will most like continue in the mid-west through the spring and summer. Preparing for natural disasters needs to be part of our regular thinking, and we along with management should take to heart the lessons learned from past disasters.

Hurricane Katrina had a significant impact on the Gulf Coast. The industry anticipated the disaster and shifted cargo out of the lower Mississippi River and Gulf Ports. The biggest impacts, however, were in communities along the path of the hurricane. Extensive refining loss and infrastructure failure of dykes and pumping systems was not anticipated. Also, the amount of flooding was much greater than expected. In some cases, emergency equipment was not properly staged, and there was too much of a time delay in requesting federal aid. Logistics was a real challenge as well. Airport electricians were gathered from airports throughout the country, including ours in Portland, and I was surprised to have trucks standing by at our marine terminal in Portland, Maine destined for New Orleans. Positive notes included the dedicated responders and the use of cruise and training ships to serve as housing for emergency response personnel. This led to MARAD’s building of new ships for emergency response and merchant marine cadet training.

After Hurricane Sandy, the National Maritime Security Committee (DHS sponsored) that I chaired was briefed by Bethann Rooney, AMPE, now the Director of the Maritime Department of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The key points she provided included that there was a 13-foot storm surge causing the destruction of 14,000 cars and 25,000 trucks. Many of the port’s cranes had been electrified, but power loss resulted in 40% of the cranes being out of service. She noted FEMA Flood Maps are just guides and can be inaccurate. Most Hurricane Plans consider only extreme wind and rain, not surge. Surge protection measures are very different.

Employees are your most important asset. Plan to take care of their families, so they can take care of the port. The majority of Maritime Critical Infrastructure (CI) and Key Resources (KR) are owned by the private sector and are not eligible for FEMA assistance. Consider creating incentives to invest in mitigation measures for a “100 Year” storm. Also pre-identify all upstream and downstream dependencies that are critical to your operation.

One key note was Rooney's perspective that we can do a better job protecting some critical infrastructure, but we can’t be protected from all threats. Since the full effects of climate change still remain unknown, mitigation measures need to consider future operations and maintenance needs. Also, plan ahead because you cannot do anything without fuel and the electrical grid. After a disaster, access back into impacted sites is often limited. Plan ahead to ensure your personnel have access through public agencies such as law enforcement or fire/emergency response. In addition, plan for alternative communications, such as satellite phones, and have paper backup for all of your plans. Be sure to pay attention to small businesses; they do not have the same resources as large corporations or public agencies. Finally, Rooney's major point was plan for the worst but hope for the best. Expect the unexpected!

Every year NOAA produces a summary of past climate disasters and costs. As you can see, whatever the cause, it is extensive and increasing annually.

Ports need to plan for resilience, which is the ability to return to an acceptable level of functioning after a disaster and get back to normal. Each port and terminal should undertake a Self-Assessment and prepare planning documents for threats and hazards.

Begin by doing an asset and infrastructure hazard assessment. Review your insurance and risk management, plan for continuity of operations, develop an effective internal/external communications plan, identify primary/secondary emergency operations locations, and plan for management of records and finance. Be sure to incorporate key partners and stakeholders, and implement training and exercising through drills.

Our inland river ports have unique challenges, which recur annually. These include increasing seasonal demand, operational and lock delays, silting and river shifting, aging infrastructure and funding, weather extremes, flood risk and seasonal rise, low water traffic restrictions, large and exposed population areas, undermined infrastructure due to extreme currents and flooding, vessel casualties and debris, post flood runoff and pollution, impacts on regional eco-systems, economic impact of transport disruption, and facility and system restoration returning to normal operations.

Additionally, prepare for not only major disasters but also extreme weather issues. The Port of Little Rock is in a tornado-prone area. The Executive Director of the Port, Bryan Day, AMPE, has implemented innovative protection measures for their personnel on the port’s property. They have installed Severe Weather Shelters, which are reinforced steel containers mounted on thick concrete slabs. It's an innovative way to ensure your people remain safe.

So, where do we start? There is a Port Management Self-Assessment for Resiliency Document funded by the U.S. Department of Commerce through a cooperative agreement between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Coastal Resilience Networks and the Gulf of Mexico Alliance, which is a checklist and guide for undertaking a marine facility self assessment. I include a discussion of this in our Management Program. A free copy is available at Key areas highlighted include:

  1. Early awareness and communication

  2. Stakeholder involvement

  3. Pre-planning and investment

  4. Infrastructure inspections

  5. Shifting to non-marine modes

  6. Hardening of infrastructure

  7. Equipment relocation

  8. Optimal waterway management

  9. Expansion of storage areas

  10. Remote intermodal operations & storage

  11. Flood-wind management systems

So before the high river flooding hits, hurricanes come our way. Take some time to prepare and be sure to Expect the Unexpected. (Special thanks to Bethann Rooney, AMPE, and Bryan Day, AMPE, distinguished graduates of the IAMPE Management Program.)


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