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Preparing For The Next Storm Through Innovation And New Technology

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RISE

By Lara Croushore, Assistant Director and Sander Dolder, Senior Project Manager
Center for Economic Transformation

We Can't Predict the Future, But We Can Prepare For It

Hurricane Sandy revealed significant vulnerabilities in New York City’s buildings and infrastructure networks. It displaced entire communities, stalled business activity, shut down transit systems, and interrupted critical utility networks for days. In the aftermath of Sandy, New York City now looks to prepare for a future that may include more frequent storms and severe weather. Hurricane Sandy taught New York City a lot about preparedness—but being prepared for the last storm is not enough. 

Because the future is unpredictable, the city needs solutions as diverse as the problems themselves—a strategy that includes more than just traditional measures. After all, the city has a lot on the line. A thriving economy, dense urban environment, and coastal location all drive the need for investments in new and innovative ways that not only minimize risk but also improve resiliency.  

With this in mind, the City of New York recently launched RISE : NYC, a $30 million global competition to identify and deploy innovative new technologies and solutions to improve the resiliency of buildings and infrastructure. The competition is looking for technologies and solutions with the greatest potential to improve resiliency both locally and globally, thereby protecting New York City and other urban environments from the unpredictable impacts of future storms, sea level rise, and other effects of climate change.  

Defining Resiliency

The term “resiliency” became a buzzword after Hurricane Sandy. But what does it really mean? Resiliency can be defined as the ability to minimize potential impact before a disturbance and recover and return to operation quickly after a disturbance.  

The need for resiliency measures is not a local problem. Cities around the world are increasingly struggling with similar challenges, and for three main reasons: 

1. Urbanization

Cities are economic centers and home to more than half of the world’s population. They generate more than 80% of global GDP—a trend that is expected to continue over the next 30 years, with almost all global growth stemming from urban areas. Further, the urban population is increasing—for the first time in human history, more than 50% of the world’s population lives in cities. By 2050, the urban population is expected to double to an estimated 6.4 billion people.  

 2. Risk

Dense urban centers increase vulnerability to disturbances. While the urbanization of our economy and population is beneficial in many ways, it also substantially increases vulnerability and risks, primarily due to “ecological disruptions, pollution, climate change, and environmental disasters,” as reported in Swiss Re’s 2014 Global Risk Report.

Top Ten Global Risks of Highest Concern in 2014

*Source: Global Risks Perception Survey 2013-2014. Note: From a list of 31 risks, survey respondents were asked to identify the five they are most concerned about. 
NumberGlobal Risk

1

Fiscal crises in key economies
2Structurally high unemployment/underemployment
3Water crises
4Severe income disparity
5Failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation
6Greater incidence of extreme weather events (e.g. floods, storms, fires)
7Global governance failure
8Food crises
9Failure of a major financial mechanism/institution
10Profound political and social instability

3. Reality

Flooding in cities has become the most common form of natural disaster. The frequency and intensity of storms like Hurricanes Katrina (2005) and Sandy (2012) illustrate the vulnerability of dense urban environments to the impacts of storms, sea level rise, and climate change.   

In New York City, more than 443,000 New Yorkers were living in areas flooded by Hurricane Sandy, inundating 88,700 buildings that contained 300,000 homes and approximately 23,400 businesses.

How Can New York City Prepare for the Future and Act As A Model for Cities Globally?

New York City is investing heavily in projects and programs that address vulnerabilities identified by Sandy through the best commercially available technologies. But while employing conventional measures will enhance the city’s overall resiliency, preparing for another Sandy isn’t the complete picture. After all, no two storms are alike. To more adequately protect the city, New York City must incorporate new and innovative strategies that are built with public/private partnerships, technological innovation, and community involvement.

RISE : NYC is just one of the steps that we need to take in the recovery and rebuilding of New York City. The competition does not attempt to predetermine the solution, but rather casts a broad net for innovative solutions to our resiliency challenges. The projects funded through RISE : NYC will be cost-effective, scalable, and replicable, and will be installed at local small businesses impacted by Hurricane Sandy. Applications are due February 28, 2014.

Regardless of the path forward, the importance of New York City's resiliency plan has broad implications. Cities around the world are struggling with similar challenges. The tools that we identify and implement locally have the potential to act as a model, with global impact.

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