"2012 A Year of Disruptions," Port Authority Official Tells NAIOP New Jersey

Top Quote Superstorm Sandy Focus of Discussion at Chapter's Transportation and Logistics Update. End Quote
  • Edison, NJ (1888PressRelease) December 06, 2012 - The seminar's theme was "Transportation and Logistics Regional Update," but Superstorm Sandy once again stole the show "in a year of disruptions." The storm itself, appropriately termed "a historic event" by New Jersey DOT Commissioner James Simpson, had and continues to have a major impact on the Garden State's transportation infrastructure.

    "We began planning early," said Simpson, calling the event and its ongoing aftermath "surreal," and citing earlier experience involving such storms as Hurricane Irene. "The Office of Emergency Management really kept it together, providing a unified command. Combined with the hardworking people at DOT, the operation ran like a paramilitary organization. Indeed, the roads, in general, were passable for emergency vehicles in five hours.

    "The transportation system is the circulatory system of our economy," Simpson said. "It is a fragile system, a network that exceeds capacity, and one breakdown impacts everything. This was the mother of all storms, and we are still in a rebuilding phase. We are going to spend the necessary construction dollars and work as quickly as possible, including obtaining DEP permits, to fix things, create jobs, and foster economic growth."

    "The message is that the Port of NY/NJ is open for business," said Dennis Lombardi, the authority's deputy director of Port Commerce, noting that port facilities began to operate just one week after Sandy, but that those facilities are currently running at 70-80 percent of capacity. He termed 2012 "a year of disruptions," citing Sandy and its post-storm impact, as well as ongoing labor issues that have threatened a port shut-down. One possible negative side-effect of such issues is cargo diversion, which not only "reduces short-term port business, but can also turn into a longer-term problem."

    For the Port Authority, the Sandy timeline began with communicating with port tenants, establishing an emergency operations center, issuing a port evacuation order, and securing the roadways. During the storm, "there were a couple of rescues," Lombardi reported. As to the aftermath, "Sandy left her mark, with everything from extensive infrastructure damage, to lost cargo containers, to damaged cruise passenger automobiles, drayage trucks and cargo chassis. By one estimate, we lost 16,000 cars."

    While the port is still operating below capacity, "all of the remaining container terminals have worked on their first post-storm vessels," he reported. Going forward, "we will rebuild, with locations based on cost-benefit considerations. There will be infrastructure upgrades based on redundancy. We will prioritize, harden our facilities and invest wisely."

    "Each disaster provides a lesson for us," said logistics expert Anne Strauss-Wieder, moderating the panel. "The port came back quickly-people came together. Lessons have been learned in terms of longer term impacts; the supply chain disruption has been defined. The short-term goal is to keep things moving. In the medium term, we will examine our practices, and the long-term goal is to define the solutions."

    Superstorm Sandy "touched all walks of business," said John Atkins, COO of Global Terminal & Container Services. Noting that his company already had some construction projects in their infancy, "we will build accordingly in the wake of the storm." The construction aftermath, he noted, includes everything from electrical backups, to "hardening some facilities" and taking special care to protect hazardous materials.

    "We learned quite a few lessons, and in the process, the port community as a whole worked together, even though we are competitors," he said.

    On the rail side of the logistics equation, "our approach was to hold trains back when the storm was approaching," said Rick Crawford of Norfolk Southern. "We mobilized our employees and equipment and established a 24/7 crisis command center. Ultimately, there were no real surprises for us," he said, noting the far-reaching extent of the Norfolk Southern system. "We had gone through this before, including Katrina. Once the flooding receded and the power was back, we were able to re-start rail service."

    All things considered, however, "failure to plan is a plan for failure, but how can you prepare appropriately for a 100-year event?" asked Tom Adamski, CEO of Cross Port Transport, a trucking concern. "The most disheartening thing is the loss. Now, we're all putting everything back together to get up and running. It's all about intermodal teamwork," he concluded.

    "This information is so critical to the real estate community as we assess how we approach future development and prioritize infrastructure improvements," said NAIOP NJ CEO Michael McGuinness. "The long-term impact of Sandy will be the focus of our first event of 2013, our January 29 Annual Meeting and Economic Outlook for Commercial Real Estate in a Post-Sandy New Jersey," he said.

    Attendance at the event earned continuing education credits for brokers, attorneys, planners and accountants. "As always, education is an important part of what we do," said McGuinness. "We remain committed to education, to providing the latest industry information, to advocacy support, and providing networking opportunities for our membership."

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