Keeping Calm in the Eye of the Storm

By Ryan Stolz, Media Relations Staff

It’s been nearly seven years since Superstorm Sandy wreaked lasting havoc throughout the New York-New Jersey region. But for Gerald McCarty, director of the Port Authority Office of Emergency Management (OEM), the next devastating storm is always potentially right around the corner.

To better prepare for the next Sandy-level storm and destructive surge, McCarty and his team are continually working to put the Port Authority in the best position to respond.

“As far as warning and the preparation that we have a storm coming, I think we’re in a better world today,” McCarty said.

McCarty credits this ‘better world’ to the Port Authority’s partnership with the Stevens Institute of Technology’s Davidson Laboratory. Established five years ago, the partnership has helped produce innovative forecasting models that more accurately detect early signs of serious flooding caused by rain and storm surge.


Director McCarty in the OEM command center

Weather forecasters say the Atlantic hurricane season is expected to remain relatively quiet through the end of August. But the more intense fall season could be another story, with predictions of fierce storms that underscore the importance of collaboration between OEM and Stevens.

The need for that level of coordination was amplified during Superstorm Sandy. Just before the storm struck, the National Weather Service (NWS) informed the Port Authority about a projected surge but was unable to estimate its height or impact. The need for a more precise, localized monitoring system became clear.

As part of their predictive modeling, scientists at Stevens have placed sensors in bodies of water that deliver real-time data to a supercomputer housed at the Hoboken college. The computer produces four models per day, which are shared with the Port Authority and then distributed to other agencies or communities as warranted.

In 2018, the Davidson Laboratory underwent a leadership change, bringing new staff and a new way of thinking with the planned introduction of Artificial Intelligence (AI) into the equation by 2021, according to Saleh Kojak, a Port Authority geographic information systems specialist and OEM’s point person on the Stevens project.

“We are looking into different ways of modeling,” Kojak said. “We’re going to try and find patterns of weather systems and see if that can predict similar forecasts.”

Dr. Muhammad Hajj, the principal investigator at the Davidson Laboratory, notes how much more efficient forecasting can be with the implementation of AI, which he says can provide for 99 percent predictive accuracy.

“Having this information, we can use different strategies to design and protect these areas ahead of time instead of waiting for a hurricane to take place and try to see what we could do,” Hajj said.

The Davidson Lab has proven its worth several times, including a potential 2015 major storm surge at John F. Kennedy International Airport that, in fact, turned out to be no threat at all for significant flooding and severe disruption to airport operations. The lab’s projection based on its modeling program was correct.

Posted in OEM, Uncategorized

For This Airport Manager, the Service is Nonstop

 By Krista Didzbalis, Media Relations Staff

Picture this: You’ve packed your luggage and prepared the travel documents, ready to make the trek to Newark Airport and begin the pre-flight process. Upon arrival, you print your boarding pass and check your luggage. Next, you pass through security to the gate in time to board the plane and enjoy your flight.

If you’ve traveled by air, the process may sound familiar. But a successful flight depends on adeptly managing many moving parts, often out of the view of the traveler. At Newark Liberty’s Terminal B, Port Authority staff are working behind the scenes 24/7 to make the process run like clockwork.

One of those key people is Karen Zweifel, the airport’s International Duty Facilities manager.

“Passengers don’t realize that there are always people watching—monitoring flight times and gates or handling baggage issues. We are always problem-solving to make sure that things in the airport are running smoothly,” said Zweifel.


Karen Zweifel

With a longtime passion for air transportation, Zweifel originally pursued a degree in Commercial Aviation. She obtained her private pilot’s license and completed commercial and instrument flight training, then changed her degree to Communications, with a specialization in Public Relations. Terminal B is where these two worlds connect, a place where she has taken on a more project-oriented role that requires continual communication with airport staff.

“Aviation has always been my focus, and the work I’m able to do in the airport operations field allows me to combine my skills and knowledge with my passion for airports and travel,” she said.

On paper, Zweifel’s shift runs from about 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., but airport operators work around-the-clock, often facing unpredictable challenges, and a set schedule is more a concept than a reality.

With summer the peak flight season, operations staff must respond accordingly. “We’re so busy with a high volume of passengers, which means a high volume of baggage. Things get stuck, things break, and we need to handle these situations appropriately,” Zweifel explained.


Zweifel (center) working with members of the Terminal B team

Not to mention the domino effect that occurs when a flight is early or delayed. If there is a conflict with an aircraft, it may be necessary to adjust the gates and make sure they fit while keeping a close eye on the flight schedule. Above all, Zweifel understands what it takes to give travelers the best possible experience at Newark Liberty. Her mantra? Traveling to your next destination, don’t forget there is a team of hardworking people always thinking three steps ahead.

“The most rewarding part of my day is being able to see issues and gather resources to improve the situation. When everything is flowing smoothly it makes this a better place to work and to travel through,” she said.

Posted in Uncategorized

PA Abilities Network: A Place for Unique Insights

By Ryan Stolz, Media Relations Staff

Senior Treasury analyst Mark Wellington commutes to work like many Port Authority employees. He takes the Metro North Railroad to Grand Central, hops on the downtown 4 or 5 to Fulton Street, walks through the Oculus and up to 4 World Trade Center for the day ahead.

While most commuters complain of overcrowded trains and delays, Wellington faces obstacles of his own from the second he steps onboard. He is visually impaired from a hereditary condition that has gotten progressively worse over time. It hasn’t limited his contributions as a professional during his nearly 10 years with the Port Authority, starting as an intern in 2009.

Wellington joined the agency through the Disability Mentoring Day Program sponsored by New York City. While the program typically involves shadowing employees for a day, Port Authority supporters saw potential in Wellington and the other mentees, and advocated for full-length internships. In the years since, he has given back to an agency that embraced his talents and enabled him to thrive.


Mark Wellington

“Being a person with disability, having to use public transportation, working for a transportation agency, I was like ‘OK, this is a good marriage,’” said Wellington.

He uses a program called “Job Access with Speech” (JAWS) that allows him to work at the same pace as his colleagues and produce quality work. JAWS acts as a screen reader that provides text-to-speech technology that actually allows him to listen at two-to-three times the normal speed.

“Your business manager doesn’t know what your needs are all the time,” he said. “If you don’t talk with them and tell them, they aren’t going to know. You have to advocate on behalf of yourself and let your needs be known.”

While Wellington advocates well for himself, there are many Port Authority staffers with disabilities, apparent and otherwise, who have been less effective. That drove Wellington and some of his colleagues to start the Port Authority Abilities Network, which serves as one of the Port Authority’s Employee Resource Groups, has 70 members and allies, and is designed to build a more inclusive and accessible environment for employees and customers. He cited the unemployment rate of those with disabilities being at 79 percent as a significant factor in helping others.


Wellington addresses recent forum on Accessibility & Inclusion

“I was thinking how can we be able to bring more people into the agency with disability, there are a lot of stereotypes that you aren’t able to do the job, what accommodations am I going to have to make, how much is it going to cost.”

In its infancy, the Abilities Network would be engaged just days before the opening of new projects, leaving little to no time to implement accessibility changes. Today, the group’s insight is solicited early in the planning process. Its members have been called upon to do a walkthrough of the new No. 1 subway entrance in the Oculus, to advise on the doors connecting Fulton Center to the Oculus that had been accommodating to those with disabilities, and review staircases at PATH stations.

For Wellington and the rest of the Abilities Network, the objective is to create awareness and to be treated fairly, and not be defined by their disabilities.

“Treat everyone like people first,” he said. “Don’t say the guy who is wheelchair-bound, say someone who uses a wheelchair, put the person first. When we start to see people in that light, as people first, the conversation becomes so much easier.”

Posted in Uncategorized