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Port Authority Mitigates Against Future Extreme Weather Events

LaGuardia Airport’s new Pump Station 6 substation powers one of six high-capacity airfield pumps, together capable of evacuating more than 400,000 gallons of water per minute. The substation was rebuilt on 10-foot stilts to reduce susceptibility to flooding.

A decade after Superstorm Sandy devastated the New York-New Jersey region, the Port Authority has enacted an aggressive series of strategic measures to mitigate against the risks of future storms and sea level rise. In the wake of the storm, agency leadership spearheaded a comprehensive series of actions and resilience measures to prepare for and defend against future extreme weather impacts caused by climate change.

By the end of 2013, the Port Authority had implemented a $60 million priority flood protection program to mitigate its most pressing vulnerabilities. This rapid initial action was followed by the $2.5 billion, agency-wide Sandy Recovery Program, which leveraged significant federal funding and includes more than 70 different projects. These projects span the full breadth of the Port Authority’s airports, tunnels, the World Trade Center campus, and the PATH system. They are built to withstand 100-year storm events with potential future sea level rise.

To ensure that resilience is integrated into all capital projects and major redevelopment efforts, in 2015 the agency introduced Climate Resilience Guidelines, which mandate flood protection against the “100-year storm” plus up to 3 feet of potential future sea level rise and up to an additional two-foot safety factor in project designs. This “code plus” approach, which greatly exceeds local and national flood protection standards, ensures that the agency’s critical assets are protected to the current 100-year flood level plus up to an additional 5 feet.

“Superstorm Sandy was a wake-up call for the entire region and for the Port Authority,” Chairman Kevin O’Toole said. “This agency has responded, with the assistance of our local, state and federal partners, to focus on resiliency and sustainability as climate change continues to worsen, causing more intense and unpredictable weather.”

“What a difference a decade makes,” said Port Authority Executive Director Rick Cotton. “Port Authority facilities are vastly better prepared to withstand serious storms than in 2012 when Superstorm Sandy hit. And we continue to upgrade these protections in light of the even more serious threats being created by climate change.”

“As we continue the critical work of building more resilient facilities, we are also looking ahead to the next 10 years as our climate continues to change,” said Josh DeFlorio, the Port Authority’s chief of resilience & sustainability. “With the launch of our Climate Risk Assessment initiative in 2021, we have already pivoted to a more proactive, strategic approach to addressing a wide range of potential future threats, including sea level rise, storm surge, intense rainfall, and extreme heat.”

The key resilience and flood abatement projects that have been implemented in some of the hardest-hit Port Authority facilities include:

  • At the World Trade Center, a $150 million program features a three-tier flood protection system, starting with a deployable flood wall around the perimeter. A second ring provides at-grade protections at all entrances and vent shafts, with sub-grade protections for critical equipment, coupled with a high-capacity pumping system.
  • LaGuardia Airport’s new Pump Station 6 substation powers one of six high-capacity airfield pumps, together capable of evacuating more than 400,000 gallons of water per minute. The substation was rebuilt on 10-foot stilts to reduce susceptibility to flooding.
  • Hoboken PATH resilience projects include the construction of a water-tight, stainless steel and aquarium glass headhouse, with deployable flood planks designed to secure the entrance just before a storm. Additionally, heavy steel flood doors have been installed to seal off the station from street-level flooding.

The next 10 years will feature the full rollout of the agency’s Climate Risk Assessment (CRA) initiative, which commenced in 2021. The CRA is a rigorous, engineering-based approach to identifying current and future climate-related risks – including sea level rise, storm surge, intense precipitation, and extreme heat – and investing strategically and proactively in resilience measures across all Port Authority facilities. The inaugural assessment is expected to be substantially completed by the end of 2023.

Read more at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey

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The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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