Over the course of the 2017 hurricane season, Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria affected the operating status of at least 45 ports throughout the southern United States and U.S. Caribbean territories. These ports provide critical services to regional economies in the Gulf, Southeastern coast, and the Caribbean.

In the report, Marine Transportation System Resilience Integrated Action Team (RIAT) identifies actions that could enhance the resilience of the MTS through preparedness.

Preparation Recommendations:

  • Participate in yearly trainings and drills to ensure that response and recovery teams and stakeholders are educated with the correct skill sets and credentials.
  • Incentivize preparedness by promoting proactive maintenance for infrastructure systems.
  • Maintain pre-established contracting mechanisms for emergency response operations.
  • Pre-identify staging areas and storage areas for response and recovery equipment, fuel, and supplies.
  • Prioritize key infrastructure systems and deliveries for directing response and recovery actions.
  • Identify critical infrastructure interdependencies and establish a multi-agency data sharing platform with a web-based interface.

Furthermore, RIAT addresses the ability of the system to resist and recover from disruption. Resist relates to immediate actions to save lives and prevent further damage during an emergency. Recovery is the effort to return the system back to normal (or even better) operation.

Resist and Recover Recommendations:

  • Share data across Federal agencies for recovery projects through interagency teams and data sharing platforms that can be shared with State, local, Tribal, and territorial governmental coordinating councils and the private sector.
  • Deploy MIST kits and NOAA National Response Team members to outfit vessels of opportunity with survey equipment (pilot vessels, barges, monitoring for critical energy services, etc.).
  • Utilize surge force and ensure appropriate management continuity.
  • Embed MTS experts where necessary – USCG, FEMA field offices, local offices.
  • Invest in Unmanned Autonomous Vessel technologies for pre and post-storm surveys.

Finally, the RIAT developed several actions to adapt between disruptions and increase the resilience of port systems.

Adaptation Recommendation:

  • Hold interagency operations-related after-action reviews with demonstrated commitment to communicating and implementing recommendations.
  • Develop a common operating picture of the port systems interdependencies and authorities including owners, operators, dependent businesses, and prioritizations and essential land and maritime functions.
  • Hold proactive planning scenario exercises and interagency training sessions where recommendations from the past season are communicated and incorporated.
  • Hold a CMTS annual workshop to review the hurricane season.
  • Ensure CMTS agencies are engaged in the National Disaster Recovery Framework for infrastructure systems so that land and maritime operations are considered in recovery and mitigation plans.
  • Promote or consider new cutting-edge technologies to understand infrastructure redundancies and reduce vulnerabilities to multiple hazards and to improve port services or support in times of disruption or failure of operations.

Several common themes can be identified in the review regarding the response to all three storms. For pre-storm preparedness, hosting early planning meetings, communication between agencies, centralizing information distribution, and maintaining or updating existing response plans were standout actions. Issues related to telecommunication and the prioritization of ports or other critical infrastructure were experienced by most MTS agencies. Finally, the successes shared between agencies included engaging with the private sector to fill gaps in federal response operations, implementing local coordination efforts, and adapting and improving throughout the hurricane season as each storm presented new obstacles to overcome.

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