Hurricane Ida slammed into the Louisiana coast on Sunday, leaving in its wake widespread damage, including flooding, power outages, and at least one overrun levee.
Linda Shi, an urban environmental planner and assistant professor in city and regional planning at Cornell University, researches how cities adapt to climate change. Shi says that despite multi-billion-dollar resiliency investments in the region, the storm’s aftermath highlights just how much climate adaptation work remains.
“Behind Hurricane Ida lies the ghost of Hurricane Katrina, raising questions about whether New Orleans and the broader region is now any better prepared for hurricanes.
“New Orleans has benefited from multi-billion-dollar investments in levee reconstruction, but not all communities have received such investments, as the emergency in Plaquemines Parish demonstrates. And while the levees are stronger, other infrastructure systems like energy utilities have not taken sufficient steps to adapt to a future of increasingly strong storms.
“Moreover, Hurricane Katrina took place without a pandemic, but more and more extreme storms will intersect with ongoing public health, climatic, and socio-economic or political crises. So, while Ida's aftermath is not as traumatic as Katrina's was, it nevertheless reveals just how much work remains to be done.”
Eilyan Bitar, a professor of electrical and computing engineering, researches efforts to sustainably integrate electric vehicles and renewable energy sources into the grid. Bitar says the widespread power outages caused by Ida underscores the need for decentralized and distributed energy sources such as rooftop solar and plug-in electric vehicles.
“Hurricane Ida provides a sobering reminder of the important role that distributed energy resources like rooftop solar generation and plug-in electric vehicles can play to increase the resilience of the power grid to catastrophic weather events.
“The decentralization of power generation across millions of distributed energy resources at the edge of the power grid would give rise to largely self-sufficient communities capable of locally generating and consuming most of their power.
“For example, when facing a power outage, your electric vehicle could serve a source of backup generation, powering your home for days. More broadly, this decentralization of the power grid would lessen the reliance on the bulk power generation and transmission system and minimize the risk of a single transmission failure taking down the entire power grid.”
Sara Bronin is an architect and attorney who studies how law and policy can foster more equitable, sustainable, well-designed, and connected places. Bronin was nominated by the Biden administration to chair the U.S. Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. She says Hurricane Ida’s destruction of historic places such as New Orleans’ first jazz records shop highlights the need for new preservation standards that can better protect such places from future threats.
“While the human toll of Hurricane Ida must be foremost in our minds, we must also recognize the toll Ida has taken on the historic and tribal resources that connect us to our shared history, often in deeply spiritual ways.
“Take, for example, Ida’s destruction of New Orleans’ first jazz records shop, where music legend Louis Armstrong worked and lived. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the structure has long been recognized as an essential part of New Orleans’ rich musical traditions. Even if the owners wanted to reinforce or elevate the building, they would likely have run up against strict historic preservation standards that frown upon such modifications.
“To ensure that places like the Karnofsky Record Shop have a chance at surviving the next disaster, we need to change federal historic preservation standards to improve resiliency in the face of increasingly common — and increasingly strong — natural hazards. We also need to better incorporate historic and tribal resources into federal disaster planning, instead of leaving such planning to states and to local governments. While no historic site will last forever, we need to be sure it’s legal to make them more resilient in the face of predictable threats.”