New York’s Pace University Holds Disaster Preparedness Conference

Pace University in New York City held a conference Monday titled “Summit on Resilience: The Next Storm.” The event brought together corporate and foundation leaders and government representatives, providing a forum for discussion on lessons from Superstorm Sandy and strengthening urban resilience through public-private partnerships. The event draw some 120 attendees.

Among the speakers were St├ęphane Hallegatte, senior economist in the Climate Change Group at the World Bank. Hallegatte spoke of ways to cut losses after a disaster by investing in resilient systems before calamity strikes, but he also noted the hurdles to making this happen given the human bias against near-term costs and tendency to discount long-term risks.

A panel discussion examined ways to advance policies that can distribute power generation around a grid, limiting the threat of abrupt blackouts like the one that struck lower Manhattan as Sandy’s surge came ashore. The discussion was moderated by Andrew Revkin, senior fellow for Environmental Understanding at the Pace Academy for Applied Environmental Studies.

During the panel discussion, Chris Levendos, vice president of National Operations for Verizon, spoke of the multiple benefits that come with investment in more durable infrastructure. “More modern equipment is more efficient to use. The cost-benefit is positive from my point of view,” said Levendos.

Ozgem Ornektekin, deputy commissioner for Energy Management in the New York City’s Department of Citywide Administrative Services, described how the city was using a blend of new combined heat and power facilities, solar panel installations and a sustained push to boost energy efficiency to limit disruptions in the future.

In addition, Troy De Vries, chief engineer for distribution engineering at Consolidated Edison, spoke about Con Ed’s use of breakaway connectors on overhead power lines that allow quick power restoration after wires are taken down by a falling tree or pole. Con Edison has 1000 units currently in trial, he said.

The panelists said a conventional power grid will always be necessary, but added that distributed power, boosting energy efficiency and creating resilient distribution systems can greatly increase reliability. Panelists also pointed to the need to continue to invest in and improve infrastructure.

Ornektekin from New York City’s Department of Citywide Administrative Services said that individuals can replicate some of these steps in their homes. “Look at what you are doing, how much energy your home is using and how much your home places demands on the grid and how you can change that,” said Ornektekin.

Michael Berkowitz, president of the 100 Resilient Cities project of the Rockefeller Foundation, said his project group is working to create a framework for urban resilience. He said the need is great because cities are becoming more and more vulnerable, and he forecast that three out of every four people will be living in cities by the year 2050. His group has found that resilient systems and policies have qualities that enable them to withstand shocks and stresses and then recover more quickly. One of those qualities is that of a cohesive and engaged community in which people readily help one another, said Berkowitz.

In his closing remarks, Joseph Ryan, director of Pace’s homeland security program and an organizer of the conference, stressed the importance of an interdisciplinary approach to moving forward with plans for resilience of municipalities.

People who specialize in the sciences and social sciences must come together to move the conversation forward and be a part of developing addressable action steps, said Ryan.

Source: Pace University