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Answering the nation’s call: Sandia part of team assessing aftermath of Hurricane Katrina

Answering the nation’s call: Sandia part of team assessing aftermath of Hurricane Katrina

What began as Sandia helping with computer simulations to determine the potential impact of Hurricane Katrina on infrastructures has turned into a series of nearly daily analyses of one of the nation’s worst natural disasters.

A team from Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories is looking at Katrina’s long-range implications on infrastructure, including energy, telecommunications, agriculture, and the chemical industry.

Consisting of scientists, engineers, and economists, the group is part of the National Infrastructure Simulation and Analysis Center (NISAC), organized by the Department of Homeland Security

NISAC began its work on the Saturday prior to Katrina hitting the Gulf Coast region. Sandia’s main goal is to look at flooding and infrastructure failures; LANL focuses on electricity systems.

“We help determine the long-range industrial consequences regardless of the cause,” says Kevin Stamber (6226), a NISAC member.

The idea is to use the models to warn officials of potential problems before they happen. The team often has less than one day from the time they are notified by DOE or DHS to generate reports concerning an event’s potential effects on infrastructure.

Nancy Brodsky (6222), the Fast Analysis and Simulation Team lead, says the reports are not made public but are given to DHS for analysis and planning. Reports are not issued to the public because they could be misrepresented.

“We’re looking at a variety of things, including economic effects and what sectors of the nation will be affected,” Nancy says. “We don’t play the numbers game and we can’t predict everything.”

Tom Corbet (6222), a member of NISAC, says the supply of oil and gas could be problematic during the winter months. Refineries in the Gulf Coast region account for 14 percent of US refining, and refineries in other parts of the country will not be able to make up for capacity lost because of Katrina, he says.

Tom says the team looks at other areas that oil will impact. This includes other businesses, commerce, and competition from other products. “We’ll potentially see something happen in one or two months,” Tom says.

Ongoing analysis

The pre-event analysis included an estimate of outages to electric power and wireless telecommunication infrastructure due to wind damage, and an estimate of the potential impacts on other infrastructure sectors based on projected power outages, including identification of critical assets in the storm’s path.

The post-event analysis includes almost daily reports on implications for recovery and rebuilding operations based on known damage to infrastructure. This also includes identification of critical electric power substation/generation facilities for balanced restoration and operation of the power grid in the southeastern United States.

Theresa Brown (6222), NISAC project manager at Sandia, says analysis is based on estimated flood zones and telecommunication industry switch location data. This identifies what the probable loss and recovery steps will be.

NISAC has conducted a supply chain analysis of chemical production in the New Orleans and Baton Rouge region, and performed a series of analyses of disruptions to rail commodity flow assuming different levels of disruption to the rail network in the affected region.

In addition, models have been created to simulate the national petroleum system to evaluate potential distribution and magnitude of fuel shortages and post-event economic analysis.

Potential economic impacts of chemical supply and transportation disruptions are also studied.

NISAC will continue to look at stresses on infrastructures and demand for services in communities supporting large numbers of the displaced populations.