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Access to readily available energy and fuels is something most Americans take for granted until disaster strikes and takes it away.

That is why energy resiliency is so important. The U.S. Department of Energy defines energy resiliency as “the ability to prepare for and adapt to changing conditions and withstand and recover rapidly from disruptions. Resilience includes the ability to withstand and recover from deliberate attacks, accidents or naturally occurring threats or incidents.”

When natural disasters strike, power outages are all-but inevitable and gasoline and diesel often become scarce. That is yet another reason why sustainable transportation fuels, vehicles and equipment are so important to our national security.

The National Hurricane Center reports $536.3 billion in damage from Atlantic coast hurricanes in the last nine years, including the $125 billion in damage from Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Of that $536.3 billion in damage, $316.3 – 59% — has occurred in the last two years alone, with nearly 6,000 Americans losing their lives in hurricanes since 2017.

One of the few bright spots in the dark history of hurricane losses is the successful implementation of alternative fuels in disaster relief and recovery efforts.

Hurricane Harvey caused a 30% reduction in refining capacity, but compressed natural gas stations operated without interruption, allowing CNG-fueled vehicles to assist in relief and recovery efforts. Part of the reason the CNG supplies remained steady was their natural gas-powered backup generators.

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Atlantic City, New Jersey, deployed its fleet of 190 compressed natural gas-fueled buses to shuttle residents to safety during Hurricane Sandy and hybrid electric bucket trucks that operate solely on battery power when stationary were used to assist utilities in repairing power lines there. Propane-fueled trucks were also able to continue to operate and to make deliveries during Hurricane Sandy as well.

We experienced our own weather-related disaster here in Northwest Indiana in September 2008 when devastating floodwaters rose across far northwestern Lake County. The 2008 floods forced the closure of major thoroughfares and business districts, impacting the movement of goods and services in the Midwest, delivering a blow our local economy and homeowners alike.

Local leaders took action after the 2008 floods to make our Region more resilient, including the creation of the Northwest Indiana Information Sharing & Security Alliance or NIISSA. NIISSA is a public-private partnership established to share security preparedness and resilience information and best practices with the goal of working toward the improvement of the Region's ability to resist the impact of all hazards, to recover rapidly when impacted and to secure the protection of critical infrastructure.

Being prepared is important, because the next natural disaster is all but inevitable. Scientists around the globe agree climate change is causing increasingly warmer, wetter conditions that are increasing the frequency and intensity of major weather events like hurricanes and floods. Without a major commitment to reduce our carbon footprint, temperatures are expected to keep climbing and precipitation is forecast to be on the rise.

That is why investing in domestic alternative fueling infrastructure, vehicles and equipment is key long before disaster strikes. While the hope is to never have to deploy those vehicles and equipment in place of traditional gasoline or diesel vehicles in a time of crisis, the reality is using them on a daily basis reduces emissions, which play a role in climate change, thereby helping to reduce the threat of major weather events in the first place.

The good news is South Shore Clean Cities members across Northern Indiana are doing just that. While we don’t know when the next disaster will strike, we can find relief in knowing folks right here in the Region are doing their part to help keep us as safe as possible. Remember, it’s never too late to begin your environmental legacy.

Carl Lisek is executive director of South Shore Clean Cities and vice president of Legacy Environmental Services. The opinions are the writer’s.

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