2012’s Hurricane Sandy had long-lasting effects along the east coast, and compelled many communities to re-evaluate their emergency preparedness plans. Amid the many tragic tales however from the storm, and more recently from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, many positive stories emerged, involving the use of alternative-fueled vehicles to help cities and citizens weather the worst.
JOHN DAVIS: Pelting rain, high winds and surging water pummeled the Eastern seaboard in November 2012 as Hurricane Sandy chewed up the East Coast, leaving in its wake a swath of loss and destruction.
After the storm passed, power outages and a crippled delivery infrastructure led to gasoline shortages that lasted for weeks, hindering cleanup efforts and paralyzing entire cities.
Atlantic City, New Jersey took a heavy toll in physical damage. But thanks to a program begun in 2009, the City’s recovery began more quickly than most.
With help from the US Department of Energy through the Recovery Act, Atlantic City, New Jersey’s Jitney bus operators were able to replace their aging fleet of 190 minibuses with new models running on clean compressed natural gas fuel.
As Hurricane Sandy approached, these vehicles were pressed into action for the evacuation. And because of their dedicated CNG fuel, the Jitneys were just about the only vehicles moving during and after the storm.
FRANK BECHTEL: “Some bay front properties got whacked real bad. But the boardwalk that was damaged is right over there. The boardwalk actually came up through the force of the storm and relocated itself several blocks. We saw on the news up in New York and Staten Island, I mean people were fighting over gasoline. We never had an issue where a bus couldn’t perform an emergency service or a convenience service because we weren’t going to be able to get fuel. It was a complete uninterrupted compressed natural gas supply.”
JOHN DAVIS: Hurricane Sandy showed other municipalities the unexpected benefits of diversifying their fuel sources.
After Hurricane Harvey ripped through Houston, refinery shutdowns, flooding and debris disrupted fuel truck deliveries to many parts of the city and consumers were faced with both short supply and spiking prices. But many Compressed Natural Gas suppliers were able to keep on pumping, since CNG is delivered to most fuel stations via pipeline, not truck. This enabled Houston’s fleet of CNG-fueled Metro buses to continue its vital service of moving people around town.
In similar fashion, CNG stations all over Florida were able to stay up and running after Hurricane Irma passed through.
The National Association of State Energy Officials, with help from the Department of Energy’s Clean Cities program, is revving up IREV, or the Initiative for Resiliency in Energy through Vehicles, to provide emergency fleet managers with information about alternative fuels, vehicles and infrastructure, along with strategies for using them in emergency scenarios.
During and after a natural disaster, the need for evacuation, electric utility repair and emergency response vehicles is obvious, but services like trash removal, ambulance transport and food delivery are critical as well.
Through programs like IREV, alternative fueled vehicles to carry out these functions are being identified now so that when disaster strikes, they can be ready to lend a helping hand to those in need.