International Bridge, Tunnel, and Turnpike Association Forum on Super Storm Sandy: Adaptation and Resilience

The International Bridge, Tunnel, and Turnpike Association (IBTTA) hosted a workshop in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy where agency officials shared strategies for operations and emergency management during extreme weather events. At the “Forum on Super Storm Sandy: Adaptation and Resilience” (Forum), agency officials who had been on the front lines of the response and recovery effort discussed lessons-learned with one another and with Florida state officials. The Forum was designed to engage transportation and tolling officials in “building adaptive solutions to climate change.” Key themes and recommendations developed by participants at the Forum are highlighted in the Report from the IBTTA Forum on Super Storm Sandy: Adaptation and Resilience.

The IBTTA Forum was held on January 10, 2013, only three months after Hurricane Sandy inflicted billions of dollars of damage on the eastern United States. The agency officials at the Forum described Hurricane Sandy as a “game-changer” for infrastructure agencies and emergency response personnel.  The Executive Director of the New Jersey Turnpike Authority said that Hurricane Sandy provided a lesson “about climate change and the need to prepare for these kinds of superstorms.”

Forum participants identified several critical human resources and internal coordination measures that agencies could implement before future storm events, including the establishment of an integrated emergency operations center for coordinating efforts across jurisdictions.  Participants also recommended that agencies develop a telecommuting policy for key staff and personnel, so that operations can continue even under travel bans or restrictions.

To improve operations during and immediately following extreme weather events and other emergencies, Forum participants highlighted the importance of maintaining communication, power, and fuel throughout the emergency period:

  • To maintain channels of communication, the Forum participants suggested that agencies maintain older communications technology systems to create redundancies. For example, landline phones and analog radio systems operated by the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) acted as critical outlets for communication when cellular and internet communication failed during Hurricane Sandy.
  • The New York MTA participants emphasized the importance of maintaining sufficient back-up generation capabilities for emergency operations, and shared from experience the need for a gasoline tanker to move fuel between facilities and to mobile command centers.

Extreme weather events also present several key considerations for toll agencies, which must make critical decisions regarding access and revenue collection during and following a disaster. Participants explained how toll collection is often suspended to facilitate the evacuation of communities during disasters, and described challenges with reimbursement and funding shortfalls from the lost revenue.  Participants debated toll-free access for out-of-state and commercial vehicles assisting in storm recovery efforts, and reached a consensus that such vehicles should pay tolls when they are being compensated for disaster recovery work.  

The participants also agreed that, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the risks of flooding and storm surges would receive a larger share of attention in disaster planning efforts.  A New Jersey official supported an “all-hazards approach” to disaster planning, recognizing that many of the planning strategies discussed at the Forum are applicable to multiple types of disaster scenarios.

The Report concludes by highlighting best practices for public communications and discussing the evolving role of social media in emergency response and disaster relief efforts.

This Adaptation Clearinghouse entry was prepared with support from the Federal Highway Administration. This entry was last updated on January 28, 2016.


Publication Date: January 2013


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  • Case study
  • Education/training materials
  • Engagement
  • Policy analysis/recommendations


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