Exactly When are We Going to Learn?
Five days after tropical storm Isaias passed through the Northeastern US, we were talking with friends in New Canaan CT. They had just got their power back earlier that day. 50% of the town remained without power, with many roads still impassible. The library attempted to serve as an ad-hoc resilience hub but fell way short of the need on multiple fronts. Mobile gasoline generators with all their risks, noise and air pollution were blaring across the town. This scene was getting played across all towns and cities throughout NJ, CT, NY and Western Mass. Apparently, finger-pointing and fighting is raging within towns, and between towns, state agencies, and utilities. Economic and repair costs are going to be wildly higher than they should have been if these towns had made a modicum of advance preparation and infrastructure investment.
The impact of this tropical storm on the grid is akin to hurricane Sandy... that occurred 8 years earlier! As the climate warms and the severity of storms increase, will this experience just become something of "ground-hog day" or are our communities going to adopt the measures to mitigate the causes and consequences of climate change. Are we going to learn the lessons of COVID and get a jump on preparedness or continue to respond to wild fires, hurricanes, heatwaves and floods reactively? Zero and low-carbon technical solutions are available today in the form of solar, wind, battery storage, microgrid controls and DSM/DER platforms. These solutions will get increasingly better and more affordable the more we work with them in real-world settings.
In the face of this growing crisis, town and city managers need to change their mindset from eliminating all risks before doing something to one of taking bite size risks with the intent of learning and refining quickly. This "agile" approach to critical change has been proven in many sectors of business and the economy to produce the fastest and most robust results at the lowest risk. Given the latest shot across the bow from Isaias, perhaps it is time for municipalities across the country to consider the same approach.