Robert Jeffers is a scientist and part of a research team that analyzed ways to increase resilience in New Orleans during and after severe weather.
Randy Montoya - Sandia National Laboratories Robert Jeffers is a scientist and part of a research team that analyzed ways to increase resilience in New Orleans during and after severe weather.

During Hurricane Katrina and other severe storms that have hit New Orleans, power outages, flooding, and wind damage cut people off from clean drinking water, food, medical care, shelter, and other vital services. In a year-long project, researchers at Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories teamed up with the city to analyze ways to improve access to these services.

Sandia researchers developed a tool to analyze and identify existing clusters of businesses and community resources in areas less prone to inundation. They focused on gas stations, grocery stores, and pharmacies to outfit with microgrids. A microgrid is an area of hardened electrical infrastructure that connects multiple buildings through a system of localized power generation and automatic control. This ensures access to electricity even if the bulk of a city’s power grid goes down. Sandia calls these microgrid hubs “resilience nodes."

“In a large majority of the cases, the breakdown in providing services can be traced back to localized flooding and a loss of electrical power,” Robert Jeffers, a Sandia systems scientist, said. “When you figure out how to keep the power on, you also enable all the other services the facilities provide.”

Applying Historical Storm Data to Model Future Impacts

The team started by asking what would constitute a worst-consequence storm scenario for New Orleans. Researchers posed this question to city and utility officials: A Category 2 or low-level Category 3 hurricane makes landfall in New Orleans and stalls over the city. Hypothetically, the storm dumps 20 to 25 inches of rain during a 24-hour period and the dewatering pumps throughout the city function at a fraction of their maximum capacity on the first day of the storm. In such a scenario many residents would be displaced due to flooding and citywide power outages.

Researchers then analyzed two historic hurricane tracks: Hurricane Katrina and an unnamed storm from 1947. The 1947 storm was chosen because it approached New Orleans from the southeast, where critical infrastructure is located. The storm simulations used their real trajectories to model impact on infrastructure performance at a range of intensities, speeds, and rainfall amounts. Based on the storm modeling data and the output from the tool, researchers developed new algorithms to identify possible locations where a resilience node or alternative grid modernization strategies may have sizable impact. The analysis is being used to support consideration of microgrid technology within a resilience district.

The project was funded by the Department of Energy’s Grid Modernization Laboratory Consortium (GMLC). The GMLC was established as a partnership between Department Of Energy and the national laboratories. It is one of the main components of the department’s Grid Modernization Initiative, a comprehensive effort to help shape the future of the nation’s grid. The city of New Orleans helped define community resilience in the project, with additional support from 100 Resilient Cities. Information was also obtained from Entergy New Orleans, the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans, and the Army Corps of Engineers.