Port Authority’s OEM, In the Eye of the Storm

By Scott Ladd, Media Relations Staff

Weather, the Port Authority’s Gerard McCarty likes to say, is a science, not an art.

Even at its most precise, however, weather can be an inexact science, as this unusually fierce and deadly national hurricane season attests. McCarty, director of the agency’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM), is continually working with his team on predictive models that will minimize the impact of another Superstorm Sandy on the New York-New Jersey region.

The devastation of Sandy prompted OEM to reach out to the Stevens Institute of Technology for assistance. In oceanographer Alan Blumberg, director of Stevens’ Center for Maritime Services and a nationally recognized expert on hurricanes, the Port Authority saw a natural partner.

“We asked them to create a system for us,” McCarty said. “We told them what we needed and asked them to fill in the gaps.

Gerard McCarty

OEM Director Gerard McCarty (center) talking hurricane response strategy

Stevens has created forecasting models able to more accurately detect early signs of potentially serious flooding through rain and storm surge. Among other methods, scientists place sensors in bodies of water across New York and New Jersey. The sensors deliver real-time data to a super-computer located on the college’s Hoboken campus. After analysis, the results are shared with the Port Authority.

“We try to give them notice of how much they should worry. We want to let them know what’s likely to happen, what’s the worst that can happen and what’s the risk associated with different probabilities,” Blumberg said.

In turn, OEM forwards warning alerts and updates to other local emergency management and transportation departments throughout the region, including the New York City Office of Emergency Management. In addition to the Emergency Operations Center in Jersey City, the OEM maintains a Watch Desk that operates around the clock, frequently circulating storm and hurricane-related updates.

“Hurricanes and coastal storms don’t happen overnight,” said Ira Forman, a senior manager on the OEM team. “You have enough warning that they are coming, and we can drill down.”

Ira Forman

OEM’s Ira Forman reviews storm patterns in the Emergency Operations Center

The Port Authority pledged $6 million to help finance the Stevens computer system that channels critical storm and flooding data to the Port Authority. “Nobody wanted to do this, we understand that. It was too expensive, too much of a commitment, too difficult to do,” McCarty said.

“But we do this because we are part of an important transportation network,” he said. “This information is too important not to share. If we can work harder at getting the right information into the right hands, we can save lives and property.”

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