Nearly a year after Superstorm Sandy wreaked havoc on the Northeast after making landfall on October 29, 2012 near Brigantine, NJ, cleanup and rebuilding efforts are still underway. On Monday the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force released their rebuilding strategy for the areas most greatly affected by the storm. The report contains 69 recommendations for rebuilding in the aftermath of the storm with a strong emphasis on building a resilient infrastructure focused on protecting and mitigating damage from future natural disasters.
Nearly $50 billion has been authorized for recovery efforts through the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act, 2013 with approximately $18 billion to be spent on infrastructure systems. The rebuilding strategy is meant to align this funding with local rebuilding visions, cut red tape to provide assistance quickly and effectively, ensure a region-wide approach to rebuilding and ensure rebuilding is done to make the region more resilient than before. There were tens of billions of dollars of damage to infrastructure in areas of New York and New Jersey that were already in need repair before the storm hit.
In addition to the physical damage done to the infrastructure systems there was nearly $30 billion to $50 billion in lost economic activity due to power outages, transportation system shutdowns and fuel shortages according to the risk modeling firm EQECAT. Because of this a good portion of the recommendations deal with rebuilding with an eye to being able to better withstand and recover from the next natural disaster. The storm caused breaks in natural gas lines, floods in subway tunnels, wastewater treatment plant failures and damages to cell cites just to name some of types of infrastructure failure that occurred.
Some of the recommendations in the report have already been adopted and implanted such as developing a minimum flood risk reduction standard for major Federal investment that takes into account data on current and future flood risks or creating a design competition to develop resilient design solutions. This is currently underway with the Rebuild by Design competition that will focus on things like large-scale urban infrastructure solution and flood protection measures through green infrastructure. Another recommendation that has already begun to be implemented is applying Infrastructure Resilience Guidelines to all Federal infrastructure investments and projects with the hopes that these resilience guidelines might be applied to future infrastructure projects across the country.
In addition to making infrastructure more resilient some of the other recommendations focused on aligning and expediting the flow of transportation funding as well as providing technical assistance to better plan and execute the rebuilding process in interdependent regions with a goal of “building stronger and safer communities and infrastructure”. There is also a push to consider green infrastructure options. By pooling resources of money, science and technology through a regional approach the hope is to build a stronger infrastructure that can better weather the next storm.
While the focus of the Task Force was to create recommendations for the rebuilding after Sandy it could provide a blueprint for future infrastructure projects. If a National Infrastructure Bank were created both public and private resources could be used to proactively repair or build more resilient infrastructure systems that in addition to being better suited to withstand the next natural disaster would also create thousands more construction projects which could greatly benefit an industry still recovering from the recession.