The devastation caused by the string of recent hurricanes is almost unimaginable.
We see the images of communities flattened by winds, the fractured remains of buildings floating in the storm waters. The cries of residents who have lost loved ones, their homes and their businesses are heartbreaking.
The storms left hundreds of thousands in the dark, without power, without fuel, without critical services, without access to food, clean water, needed medicine and health care. We pray, we contribute, we offer thanks for lives spared, but can we do more?
In the days following natural disasters, there is almost inevitably a pledge to rebuild, a rallying cry by officials that helps drive the sense of hope needed to move forward.
As our leaders look toward rebuilding efforts in these storm-ravaged areas, now is the time to plan with the next natural disaster in mind and to help ensure there will be more reliable sources of fuel and power available when most needed.
The answer may lie in a diversified fuel and energy mix.
The U.S. Department of Energy estimates Hurricane Harvey cut nearly 30 percent of the nation’s refining capacity. Texas oil refineries were particularly hard hit, and gasoline shortages followed.
But compressed natural gas continued to flow uninterrupted in underground pipelines throughout Texas, providing fuel for some of the critical emergency response fleets. Compressed natural gas-powered generators kept many of the stations providing the fuel operational.
Biofuel, flex-fuel and propane vehicles assisted police, fire, utility and public works disaster relief efforts as well. The less reliance the vehicles had on gasoline, the better their chances of operating when the gasoline supplies dwindled.
Atlantic City, New Jersey, knows the benefits of alternative fuels in disaster preparedness and relief. Before Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast in 2015, Atlantic City began evacuations using its Jitney compressed natural gas-powered mini bus fleet. After the storm passed and gasoline shortages hit, those same buses were nearly the only ones traveling on the city streets because their fuel source was not compromised.
Lessons learned from other disasters are helping with power needs as well.
In Japan, where a 2011 tsunami killed 16,000 and led to a nuclear meltdown, solar energy with an independent delivery system and battery storage were included in the rebuilding efforts. In American Samoa, on the tiny island of Ta’u, an all-diesel electric grid has been replaced entirely by solar energy and batteries. In case of disaster, the island can operate on battery power for three full days. That may not seem like much, but the time immediately following a disaster is the most critical.
Puerto Rico is getting similar assistance with solar, thanks to Tesla. The electric car manufacturer is bringing Powerwall batteries and solar panels to the island to help generate electricity that can be stored in batteries in the most critical areas.
Emergency preparedness need not be born of disaster. The time is now to ensure our fuel and energy sources will be there when disaster strikes.