NYS 2100 Commission Releases Report on Improving New York State’s Infrastructure

In November 2012, Governor Andrew Cuomo formed the NYS 2100 Commission in response to the recent, and extraordinary, weather events experienced in New York State (Super Storm Sandy, Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee). The Commission, consisting of 25 members, is co-chaired by Judith Rodin, President of Rockefeller Foundation, and Felix Rohatyn, former Chairman of the Municipal Assistance Corporation.

The Commission was asked to examine and evaluate the New York State’s infrastructure systems, and to recommend steps that should be taken to strengthen and improve the resilience of those systems. On January 11, 2013, the Commission released its preliminary report and recommendations.

The Commission’s report recognizes that climate change in the New York area threatens everyday necessities such as food, shelter, water, energy supply, health and safety. The report makes it clear that New York State must prepare for “an increased frequency and intensity of severe weather attributable to climate change.” The focus of the report is to make recommendations to contend with the unprecedented weather patterns that the Commission refers to as the “new normal”.

The report stresses that the key to preparing for future weather related problems is making the state’s infrastructure more resilient. The report describes resilience as “the ability of a system to withstand shocks and stresses while still maintaining its essential functions.” Resilience is further described as “the ability of individuals, organizations, systems, and communities to bounce back more strongly from stresses and shocks. Resilience means creating diversity and redundancy in our systems and rewiring their interconnections, which enables their functioning even when individual parts fail.”

The Commission emphasized that making the state’s infrastructure “more resilient will take longer than a day, or a year, or even a decade.” The Commission’s 205-page report includes both short term and long term recommendations.

The recommendations are based on the five characteristics of resiliency: (1) spare capacity (e.g. assuring that there are adequate backup systems, such as having spare parts for the electric grid and back-up generators with fuel supplies; (2) staying flexible (the ability to change, evolve and adopt alternative strategies); (3) limited failure (e.g. designing power grids to shut down in sections instead of wholes or shutting down transportation systems to avoid greater harm), (4) rapid rebound (e.g. the shut down of subways and trains in advance of Super Storm Sandy allowed for a rapid rebound); and (5) constant learning.

The Commission endorses both natural and man-made responses to deal with extreme weather. For example, the report recommends that the state consider man-made storm barriers with movable gates that would cost billions of dollars. The report also recommends a variety of simpler back-to-nature steps like building dunes, wetlands and oyster reefs, which were once widespread along New York’s coastline.

The report emphasizes taking action immediately and makes specific recommendations in the areas of energy, transportation, land use, insurance, and infrastructure financing, as well as highlighting the following nine major cross-cutting recommendations concerning multiple sectors and systems:

  1. Protect, upgrade, and strengthen existing systems.
  2. Rebuild smarter: Ensure replacement with better options and alternatives.
  3. Create Shared Equipment and Resource Reserves.
  4. Encourage the use of green and natural infrastructure.
  5. Promote Integrated Planning and Develop Criteria for Integrated Decision-making for Capital Investments.
  6. Enhance Institutional Coordination.
  7. Improve Data, Mapping, Visualization, and Communication Systems.
  8. Create New Incentive Programs to Encourage Resilient Behaviors and Reduce Vulnerabilities.
  9. Expand Education, Job Training and Workforce Development Opportunities.

The predominant message is that New York State must be proactive. The state must immediately begin to examine and implement the recommendations that are intended for the short term, as well as those projected to be realized over time.