Hurricane preparedness: Not just bottled water and flashlights

Perhaps more than any storm in recent history, Sandy reminded us of the critical tie between infrastructure, comfort, and recovery. With many areas subjected to weeks and months without power, this storm affected millions of Americans. While no disaster is predictable, or preventable, we have the tools and technology available today to mitigate power outages, as well as the damage and distress associated with that prolonged loss of electricity. This new approach to preparedness starts by ensuring that our energy infrastructure is resilient and reliable before disaster strikes. The National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA), which includes more than 400 of the nation’s manufacturers as its members, advocates for “smart” rebuilding—utilizing advanced technologies to mitigate the impact of future weather events.

Smart technologies such as Smart Grid solutions can quickly detect downed power lines and reroute power. Devices like smart meters serve as sensors that transmit information to grid operators to speed recovery. Microgrids, energy storage, and distributed generation systems can preserve power to high-priority facilities like hospitals and first responders. Backup generation technologies can provide reliable and cost-effective power for homeowners, businesses, and public facilities despite floods, fire, wind, ice, and snow. Currently available wiring, cabling, and components make it possible to protect the power infrastructure from flooding and corrosion.

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Not only do these technologies promise to mitigate the personal and economic damage caused by major storms, they’re also critical components of a national energy policy to increase energy efficiency. Simple policies can encourage adoption and investment in smarter energy technologies as the most efficient and cost-effective way to better protect lives, infrastructure, and communities from power loss while promoting energy efficiency and economic growth.

Incentives for the U.S. industrial sector, including Energy Savings Performance Contracts, can stimulate greater public and private sector investments in smart energy technologies. They can also result in cost savings that make our manufacturing base more competitive and government buildings more efficient.

After storms like Sandy, disaster relief aid must permit federal funds to be spent on smart technologies to reduce future storm impacts. It must also allow for data gathering and analysis. This information can be used by federal officials and state and local utility experts to accelerate construction and retrofitting projects that incorporate smart technologies. Building this foundation will help reduce power outages and keep electricity flowing.

Disasters by their very nature are unforeseeable. Technology, however, offers predictable means to minimize the damage and distress associated with prolonged loss of electricity. If we don’t rebuild smart when we have the opportunity, we can never be fully prepared for the next natural disaster. Being prepared is more than just bottled water and flashlights; it’s about building the foundation for a stronger, smarter, and more reliable grid.

Gaddis is the CEO and president of the National Electrical Manufacturers Association.