Sandia LabNews

Resilient cities focus of new Sandia, Rockefeller Foundation pact to help 100 communities worldwide


San Francisco is one of the first group of cities particptaing in the 100 Resilient Cities Challenge.

Sandia will bring decades of experience solving problems with practical engineering and modeling complex systems to cities around the world under a new agreement to support the 100 Resilient Cities Centennial Challenge, pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation.

The challenge, which will help 33 cities in its first year, seeks to make communities more resilient — better prepared to withstand natural or manmade disasters, recover more quickly, and emerge stronger.

“We are eager to partner with the 100 Resilient Cities Centennial Challenge,” says Jill Hruby, VP of International, Homeland, and Nuclear Security, who signed the memorandum of understanding. “We see this as an opportunity to bring the best minds in science and engineering to help people around the world recover from the shocks and stresses of modern threats and times.”

Michael Berkowitz, managing director of 100 Resilient Cities at the Rockefeller Foundation and the CEO of the 100 Resilient Cities Centennial Challenge, says, “We’re excited to welcome Sandia National Laboratories as the newest partner to the 100 Resilient Cities platform, and for them to begin offering 100 Resilient Cities network members Sandia’s technical expertise in developing risk assessments, modeling complex systems, and finding innovative engineering solutions that can help cities build resilience.”

Five-year partnership to bring framework of best practices to cities

Sandia has developed resilience methodologies, models, and other tools that could be used to create a resiliency framework based on best practices worldwide, but adapted to cities’ individual needs, project lead Charles Rath (6921) says.

“The ultimate goal is to improve global stability by kick-starting a worldwide resiliency movement,” he says. “We want to use this experience to develop models and best practices that can be shared with cities across the world.”

Under the five-year memorandum, Sandia will supply cities with a toolkit of infrastructure and socio-economic models that will help local leaders better assess specific resilience challenges, set priorities, and select the most cost-effective way to address them.

“Sandia’s experts have deep knowledge in how to address nearly every challenge a city might face —  everything from how to make its energy grid more resilient to how to achieve a more clean and sustainable water supply,” Charles says.

Among Sandia’s experts who will work with cities:

Systems risk analyses define threats, vulnerabilities, and consequences

Trisha Miller (8116), a systems risk analyst, helps cities think about threats facing them, how a city might be vulnerable to those threats, and what the consequences are.

To define a city’s risk, Trisha taps experts across the Labs to look at the likelihood of natural or manmade disasters. In the case of terrorist attacks, she tries to understand how someone who wants to harm a city would be motivated, make decisions, and act.

To assess a city’s vulnerabilities, Trisha ties together threats and consequences to uncover potential weaknesses. The analyses also identify critical infrastructure, such as transportation, electricity, communications, hospitals, and other facilities that would be vulnerable.

Finally, the analyses identify potential consequences, such as how many people would be injured in a natural disaster or how many buildings would have to be closed, to help cities prioritize how to become more resilient, she says.

“We’re a systems engineering lab. That means we look at processes from end to end, defining the problem, identifying the needs, defining the requirements, engineering a solution, and making it happen,” Trisha says.

Looking at complex systems — in this case, cities — also encourages municipal developers to address multiple risks, rather than create a separate plan for each hazard, she says.

This process “helps cities prioritize and have an explanation of why they’re investing in one thing versus another,” she adds. “It helps build consensus.”

Electrical grid experts at Sandia bring resiliency to power supply

Abraham Ellis (6112), an electrical grid expert, works with a team on infrastructure resilience to prevent the kind of damage suffered in New York and New Jersey after 2012’s Superstorm Sandy.

Sandia researchers are using the Labs’ Energy Surety Design Methodology, which has a successful track record at military facilities, for two projects in New Jersey funded by DOE.

Sandia is working with the city of Hoboken, N.J., to assess and develop designs for improving the resiliency of the city’s electrical grid after the storm.

Sandia also is working on a study with New Jersey’s Transit Corporation, NJ TRANSIT, to provide a resilient energy supply system to trains running between New York and New Jersey during power disruptions.

Sandia is providing NJ TRANSIT with a design concept for a microgrid, which, if built, would be the largest microgrid by capacity and geographical footprint in the US, Abe says. A microgrid is connected to a utility electrical grid, but can also operate as an “island” grid that self-sufficiently produces power when there is a disruption in the main grid.

The power system is being planned with resiliency in mind. For example, the generation plant and transmission and distribution lines will be protected from wind and storm surges, he says.

Resiliency requires planning ahead for disasters that might happen once every 50 years or more. That can cost millions of dollars up front, but can reduce a city’s exposure to billions of dollars in economic impact and repairs after a disaster, he says.

Abe is excited about working with city governments and believes resiliency can become an attribute of cities, just like quality schools and clean water.

“Resiliency should contribute to the economic vitality of a city,” he says.

Clean water a human right, integral to resilient cities

Hydrologist Vince Tidwell (6926) believes access to clean water is a human right and works toward that end in his profession and as a volunteer traveling to South America and Africa to provide technical know-how.

“It’s always been in my heart. I’m trying to give back a little bit of what we take for granted in the US by recognizing that a lot of people don’t have access to good, clean water,” Vince says.

In the US, helping cities with water issues has expanded in recent years from a focus on natural disasters or malevolent activity that affect water supplies to include more chronic issues of population growth and climate change and their impact on water resources.

Like many Labs researchers, Vince can work with cities to study their entire systems by taking into account water issues along with other concerns. “We’re really bringing together the energy, the water, the land, the food, environmental issues, looking across the board in trying to fashion a more holistic view of how these work together,” he says.

For example, Sandia can help explore the interplay between water and energy, water and food supply, or other trade-offs; the laboratory can help developing cities provide safe drinking water, sanitation, or build needed infrastructure in a cost-effective and efficient manner through the use of technology; or perhaps identify specific technologies to produce clean drinking water.

Vince recognizes that many cities already have high-caliber water experts. He envisions a collaborative approach with cities to understand water-related issues, perhaps running scenarios and see how different solutions affect outcomes.

Mark Ehlen (6924), co-project lead, says citizens in resilient cities should notice the benefits of resiliency not only during disasters, but also in their everyday lives.

“A resilient city is livable and workable. There’s clean air, a good standard of living, not too much congestion, housing and education are affordable, and there’s a sense of community,” he says. “Resilient cities can evolve over time to accommodate an increase in population, increased disparities in income so that in the long-term, social mobility is preserved.”