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NPS Student, Faculty Research Helps Develop Climate-Ready Force through Infrastructure Resilience

The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps responding to both natural and man-made disasters

The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps are often called upon to respond to the worst of disasters, whether natural or man-made. Students and faculty at the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) are exploring different aspects of disaster preparedness and response, with their research being adopted by local and federal emergency management planners.

Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) student research that identified and modeled different aspects of real-world disaster preparedness is being adopted by Navy and state emergency management officials for “building climate resilience,” as outlined in the Secretary of the Navy’s “Climate Action 2030” strategy.

Through the Critical Infrastructure Resilience Collaboration & Assessment (CIRCA) project, NPS students are answering the call to action alongside faculty in the institution’s Center for Infrastructure Defense (CID), and producing tangible impact on the resilience of military installations and local communities in preparation for the worst of disasters – whether natural or man-made.

“We initially set out to model and understand interdependent infrastructure vulnerabilities of military installations like power and water supply, but this soon expanded out to how these relate to local communities,” explained Dan Eisenberg, NPS Operations Research (OR) assistant professor and CID deputy director.

“Our case studies necessarily involve working with local stakeholders, from emergency management agencies to fire chiefs and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), hence the focus on ‘collaboration’ in the name,” he said.

This spirit of collaboration at CID has proven foundational to expanding research into climate and its impact, as evidenced by the selection of NPS to host the second Department of the Navy (DON) Climate Tabletop Exercise in April 2023, in partnership with the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability. During the two-day event, which was attended by Meredith Berger, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Energy, Installations and Environment (EI&E), NPS students and participants concentrated on three focus areas – water security, energy security, and coastal resilience – and identified problem statements, challenges, and specific solutions to pursue.

Ultimately, implementation of strategies to protect critical infrastructure is the goal. In fact, past climate and operations research products developed by NPS students and faculty are being directly implemented by DON, federal and state agencies as part of their disaster preparedness planning.

To wit: the State of Hawaii Emergency Management Agency (HI-EMA) recently adopted CIRCA’s work as part of their Distribution Management Plan. Based on several NPS student theses, the contribution is influencing decisions for the optimal preposition of emergency supplies for the state, according to Eisenberg.

“All of our work in Hawaii looks at how to get food, water and fuel to the people who need it in the event of a major disruption,” he noted. “Military installations are particularly interested in this because they want to know how they can support local communities if the need arises.”

For example, a thesis by NPS 2023 Winter Quarter graduate U.S. Navy Lt. Felicia Goodell, “Emergency Field Distribution for Disaster Relief on Marine Corps Base Hawaii (MCBH),” models optimal positioning of refueling generators to ensure continuity of electric power for the military base.

“Our research addresses how any installation can keep the power on through any sort of disaster situation,” she said. “This is going to be used not only for other installations in Hawaii, but also for the community at large.”

Recognizing the impact of her work, Goodell received the prestigious Military Operations Research Society (MORS) Stephen A. Tisdale Graduate Research Award for the 2023 Winter Quarter.

Goodell’s research was considered so through and relevant that it was immediately adopted by MCBH, as well as being included in HI-EMA’s Distribution Management Plan along with the work of two other graduate students.

“Lt. Goodell’s thesis could not come at a better time,” said Michael May, the deputy director of supply for MCBH. “We know we need more capabilities for fuel at our installation and her work is helping us plan for future energy resilience. This work supports our current need and will be talent to the fleet to support mission assurance.”

Sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) through its Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program (SERDP), the CIRCA project seeks to develop methods that measure worst-case disruptions across interdependent infrastructure systems of Department of Defense (DOD) military installations as well as create models that support DOD infrastructure planning and management.

The extensive damages experienced in the wake of disasters like Hurricane Florence in September 2018 at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, demonstrated the need for modeling both to measure losses and provide military leadership methods to incorporate compound threats into infrastructure investment plans.

CIRCA began its work in the U.S. Virgin Islands and at Naval Station Newport, Rhode Island, before shifting focus to Hawaii.

Once initiated, it didn’t take long for CIRCA to realize the role communities surrounding military installations played in defending against catastrophic events, according to Eisenberg.

“Roughly 50 percent of civilian and active-duty military personnel that work on installations don’t actually live on the installation,” he said. “So you can’t treat the installation isolated from the communities in which they’re embedded. MCBH will not be able to operate as it needs to if the communities surrounding it don’t have food and water; it’s just not going to happen.”

In 2021, this fundamental concept rang true in another CIRCA project, one that played a pivotal role in emergency evacuation planning ahead of Hurricane Henri.

For her NPS Operations Research graduate thesis, U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Amanda Jones examined disaster preparedness of Naval Station Newport on Aquidneck Island in Rhode Island. Her efforts were part of an 18-month Military Installation Resilience Review (MIRR), a collaborative effort between Naval Station Newport, the city of Newport, the U.S. Naval War College and the University of Rhode Island.

As it turned out, Jones’ work on the MIRR ended up being applicable much sooner than anyone anticipated when Hurricane Henri barreled towards the island in August 2021, becoming the first named storm to make landfall in Rhode Island in 20 years. Suddenly, CIRCA found itself informing the Newport base on best evacuation routes and preparation procedures before Jones’ thesis was even published.

“The next thing I knew, it’s Friday night at 11 p.m. and we’re running the model and making a PowerPoint slide and brief, trying to interpret data to provide the emergency responders at the Navy base data for them to brief to the base commanding officer on Saturday morning about what might happen if the base has to evacuate,” Jones recalled. “It was very satisfying to see my thesis, which wasn’t even done yet, actually able to immediately be used in a real-life scenario.”

“The three municipalities surrounding the installation had never really coordinated their evacuation plans with the base,” Eisenberg added. “There are very few bridges; it’s kind of a difficult planning scenario.”

“Luckily, the storm turned away from being a direct hit at Naval Station Newport, but they used our assessment to guide their difficult decision-making and what their timeframes were,” he continued. “Working with students to solve important, real problems is the most rewarding thing we do at NPS, particularly when we can have immediate impact on operations.”

For her work, Jones was awarded the Chief of Naval Operations Award in Operations Research.

CIRCA projects necessarily involve coordination with myriad stakeholders, including military personnel, local and county government officials, state agencies and federal entities.

That they have successfully done so is not accidental, Eisenberg said, but the result of the unique character of NPS.

“The fact that we’re quasi-academic and quasi-government has been an important factor for our ability to even start the conversations that we’re having,” he said. “That we can wear both hats makes it so we can enter evolving social contexts and not be afraid to be a part of many difficult and quite varied conversations. We’re an objective, educated third party that is just trying to help.”

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