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FEMA Engages NREL in Hurricane Sandy Recovery Effort

May 8, 2013

Natural Disasters, By the Numbers

  • There have been 144 weather/climate disasters since 1980 in which overall damages reached or exceeded $1 billion.
  • In 2005, the estimated economic loss due to Hurricane Katrina was about $187 billion.
  • In 2012, the estimated total loss due to Hurricane Sandy was $71 billion in New York and New Jersey alone.

By the time Hurricane Sandy pounded the East Coast on October 29, 2012, it had grown to be the largest Atlantic hurricane on record—with winds spanning 1,100 miles.

The devastation left in its wake affected 24 states with the most severe damage concentrated in New Jersey and New York; total damage topped an estimated $71 billion for the two states alone.

For the first time, NREL was funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to participate in disaster recovery strategic planning efforts between federal, state, and local agencies. Two NREL teams were dispatched to New York and New Jersey in February-April to support FEMA's implementation of the National Disaster Recovery Framework—a guide for Federal support that promotes effective recovery efforts and provides a flexible structure for disaster recovery managers at all levels to operate in a unified and collaborative manner.

NREL's role was to provide expertise in energy aspects of sustainability as well as coordinate key stakeholders in the planning process to ensure the inclusion of renewable energy and energy efficiency into the planning process.

Photo of a beach home ripped from its foundation. The home is tilted back and sand covers the majority of the front area.

Homes in Breezy Point, NY, at the southwestern tip of Long Island, were ripped from their foundations as a result of Hurricane Sandy’s disastrous storm surge. Photo by Alexander Dane, NREL

"Based on our core capabilities and track record, NREL is uniquely positioned to play a critical role in disaster resiliency, recovery, and rebuilding," said Mary Werner, NREL Program Manager. "Our expertise in sustainable energy can play an important part in rebuilding more efficient and resilient disaster-hit communities."

FEMA's support of NREL after Hurricane Sandy validates the lab's expertise and capabilities demonstrated with our highly acclaimed disaster recovery work in New Orleans, Louisiana, and Greensburg, Kansas. NREL also has been involved in international disaster efforts, including American Samoa and Haiti.

"We can't prevent disasters from happening, but we can make our grid and infrastructure systems as disaster resilient as possible," said Werner.

In New York and New Jersey, NREL technical experts led presentations on applying sustainability in disaster recovery, provided recommendations for including clean energy and energy efficiency strategies, as well as researched and performed technical analysis on specific energy and sustainability and recovery issues, including analysis of the estimated lifecycle cost savings for residential energy efficiency investments. In addition, NREL identified and coordinated the development of disaster recovery partnerships by leveraging existing relationships with regional, state, and local energy stakeholders, such as the Partnership for Sustainable Communities, the New York State Energy Research Authority, and Environmental Protection Agency's Brownfields Program.

Photo of a man standing in front of a pile of pieces of a home destroyed by Hurricane Sandy.

Ian Metzger, NREL, surveys Hurricane Sandy damage to a residential area in Mantoloking, N.J., one of the hardest hit towns on the Jersey Shore. Photo by Eliza Hotchkiss, NREL

"Bringing together the right people at the right time can create a transformational change through the recovery effort," said NREL project leader Alexander Dane, who was part of the two- person onsite NREL team that spent five weeks in New York working with FEMA and other federal agencies including Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the Commerce Department. "We can have an important role in incorporating sustainability and resiliency in rebuilding."

"Doing this work enables us to have a positive impact at a critical stage when federal, state, and local agencies are working together in long-term strategic planning," said NREL project leader Lynn Billman. "There is a narrow window of opportunity to influence the recovery efforts so that sustainability is prioritized in rebuilding. With FEMA's support of NREL to participate in the strategy planning process, we can influence people to think about something different."

"While disasters are terrible events that impact millions each year, they are also opportunities to rebuild right using sustainable practices, incorporating energy efficiency and renewable energy into our communities, and establishing more resilient grid and infrastructure systems," Werner said. "Billions of dollars are spent each year on disaster recovery and rebuilding. It's critical that we reinvest in our infrastructure using technology solutions for tomorrow."

Learn more about NREL's disaster recovery support.