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Feature Story | Argonne National Laboratory

Argonne partners to strengthen Puerto Rican infrastructure

Argonne researchers have helped Puerto Rico’s long-term recovery by bolstering the planning for its critical infrastructure systems.

Lawrence Paul Lewis, upon his arrival to Puerto Rico in June 2017, recognized the same culture and vibrancy that he knew from New Orleans, where he had lived and studied for many years.

My first reaction was that there was something so comfortable and familiar about it,” he said.

Lewis, the program lead for technology implementation in the Decision and Infrastructure Sciences (DIS) division at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory, was in Puerto Rico to lead a Regional Resiliency Assessment Program (RRAP) project for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Infrastructure Protection (IP).

Resilience is not something you accomplish, it’s something you practice. You have to constantly adjust.” – Lawrence Paul Lewis, leader of the Technology Implementation Program in Argonne’s Decision and Infrastructure Sciences division

Argonne had been conducting resiliency studies for DHS since 2009, and this one was supposed to examine the strength of regional freight networks between Continental U.S. ports and the Caribbean. 

But then came Hurricane Maria, directly on the heels of Hurricane Irma. 

When Maria struck Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017, it was a high-end Category 4 hurricane, the most powerful and deadliest storm of the year.

Painted Puerto Rico state flag on uprooted tree from Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico. (Image by Shutterstock / Steve Heap.)

Quickly shifting gears, DHS-IP asked Argonne to instead support the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) with long-term recovery planning for critical infrastructure systems, such as energy, water, communications and transportation. 

Lewis, who had survived hurricane Katrina years earlier, returned to Puerto Rico in November 2017 with a new focus – and a painful sense of déjà vu.

It was heartbreaking,” he said. It reminded me of New Orleans.”

Identifying Puerto Rico’s infrastructure needs

In the aftermath of Maria, the challenges in Puerto Rico were immense. In July 2018, Governor Ricardo Rosselló Nevares released a draft Economic and Disaster Recovery Plan for Puerto Rico” in which he said emergency services were severely compromised and residents lacked electricity, food and water for a prolonged period.”

Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in September 2017, damaging much of the island’s infrastructure. (Image by Shutterstock / Case Sensitive Films.)

Roads were impassable, residents had limited access to medical care, schools shuttered, government services and private enterprise could no longer operate effectively, landslides caused flooding hazards and wastewater polluted marine environments, he said.

Arriving in November at the Joint Field Office in San Juan – the hub of local, state and federal multi-agency coordination – Lewis joined with DHS-IP staff to brief the leadership from Puerto Rico and FEMA on how recovery investments could be targeted and prioritized. 

Recovery has always had a reactive posture, and we wanted to be more proactive with our approach,” he said.

Together, they identified the sweet spots” where investing money would make infrastructure more resilient – and efficient.

Argonne’s Dan Harkness (center) was part of a multi-lab team trying to help Puerto Rico better prepare for future storms. (Image by Argonne National Laboratory / Mark Petri.)

As an example, Lewis pointed to voltage instability, which occurs when demands for electrical power exceed the capability of generation and transmission, causing extremely low voltages. Even before the storms this was a massive problem in Puerto Rico.

For a critical industry like pharmaceutical manufacturing, which drives 30 percent of the state’s economy, losing a batch of medicine during a power outage is a major loss. Addressing the voltage instability would not only have a positive impact on the pharmaceutical industry but on water filtration and cell towers as well, making it an appealing choice, he said.

Disaster managers gave the green light for a six-week pilot project in Manatí, a mid-sized municipality on the island’s northern coast. The goal was to test the methodology by identifying critical manufacturing facilities and analyzing their dependencies on lifeline infrastructure systems – and then recommending strategies for investment. State and federal officials soon asked for ways in which the methodology could be expanded to other parts of the island.

The next phase of the project began in January 2018 and with it, an opportunity to take almost a decade’s worth of knowledge and put it to work in support of Puerto Rico’s recovery.  

Flipping the framework

Duane Verner is the Resilience Assessment Group Leader in the DIS division at Argonne, and he has been involved with the RRAP since its inception. The program relies upon a Regional Resiliency Assessment Program Dependency Analysis Framework,” written in part by Verner, to provide a common understanding and consistent analytic approach.

According to Verner, the framework was flipped on its head” in Puerto Rico. In a typical RRAP, the framework is used to examine the consequences of a particular event occurring. For Puerto Rico, it became a planning tool to understand how to build back the island in a more resilient manner.

We are using the framework to understand the links and nodes, the dependencies of systems and the interdependencies among systems, bringing to bear a decade’s worth of knowledge in this area,” Verner said.

Watch tower in El Morro castle at old San Juan, Puerto Rico. (Image by Shutterstock / Maxy M.)

In expanding to other parts of the island in this next phase, FEMA asked DHS-IP to perform interdependency assessments in support of long-term economic recovery. Of particular interest were key industrial sectors, such as critical manufacturing, food distribution and maritime port capacity.

Lewis and his multi-disciplinary team included engineers, economists, GIS analysts, political scientists and IT specialists from Argonne, as well as additional support from DOE’s Idaho National Laboratory – totaling more than a dozen people.

Working under the direction of DHS-IP, they helped assess 57 critical manufacturing facilities and industrial assets as part of this process.

According to Lewis, the biggest challenge was to manage the data, understand it and make meaningful use of it – while also protecting sensitive information.

Argonne’s Paul Lewis, Duane Verner and Leslie-Anne Levy relied on this new tool to find the ideal dependencies and interdependencies for Puerto Rico’s grid network. (Image by Argonne National Laboratory.)

A new web-based data collection and management architecture – the Puerto Rico Infrastructure Interdependency Assessment (PRIIA) toolset – was developed to assess and visualize first- and second-order dependencies and interdependencies and frame key findings for stakeholder consideration.

Earlier this year, DHS-IP released the Puerto Rico Infrastructure Interdependency Assessment,” summarizing its activities from November 2017 through May 2018 and highlighting the importance of understanding infrastructure interdependencies as part of long-term recovery planning.

In addition to Lewis’ group, another team at Argonne was asked by DOE to lead the development of modeling tools and analysis spanning five National Laboratories to support Puerto Rico in planning a more resilient electric grid. Their work included a delegation of National Laboratory researchers providing training and technical assistance for Puerto Rico’s public utility employees during a series of multi-day working sessions in June and October, and the team continues to contribute to local and federal grid recovery efforts in Puerto Rico. Their work is helping inform solutions to challenges facing critical industries like those identified through Argonne’s infrastructure interdependency assessments.

This shows a simulation of the faux Hurricane Cora’s trajectory and potential electrical outages. This was not a real hurricane and was created for training and research purposes. (Simulation by Argonne National Laboratory.)

Taking the long view

The report was shared with senior federal officials managing recovery operations in Puerto Rico, and key material about infrastructure interconnectedness was included in the commonwealth governor’s economic and disaster recovery plan, which pegged the total costs of the island’s long-term rebuilding at $125 billion.

DHS-IP is currently coordinating with FEMA to identify which potential projects identified in the assessment to undertake.

The Capitol of Puerto Rico in San Juan. (Image by Shutterstock / Dennis van de Water.)

DHS-IP is one of the leading voices for dependencies and interdependencies in the country,” said Leslie-Anne Levy, who leads the DIS Infrastructure Security and Risk Analytics Group and co-manages the RRAP portfolio with Verner. Drawing connections among infrastructure systems allows recovery managers to see the forest for the trees, to understand their interplay.”

Argonne will continue to support Puerto Rico recovery efforts at least through the spring of 2019. In the coming months, DHS-IP is also looking to extend its work with Argonne to the U.S. Virgin Islands, and apply the toolkit to broader Caribbean infrastructure resilience.

We are looking to help develop a capability that can be deployed whenever infrastructure dependency is a pressing question,” Lewis said. Resilience is not something you accomplish, it’s something you practice. You have to constantly adjust.”

The road to rebuilding and recovery

After having supported the recovery in Puerto Rico for more than a year, Lewis, perhaps as much as anyone, understands how much work still remains.

Katrina left New Orleans nearly unrecognizable, he said. Lewis, then a law student at Tulane University, lost everything he didn’t leave with during the evacuation. It took him years to rebuild and recover.

The storm changed his life and his career path: Rather than take a job in international law as he had initially planned, he instead completed his degree and enrolled in the Master of Science in Threat and Response Management at the University of Chicago, where he now teaches. He joined Argonne in 2010.

There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about Katrina,” he said. It is why I do what I do.”

Lawrence Paul Lewis receives the Secretary of Energy’s Achievement Award from Secretary of Energy Rick Perry at the Secretary’s Honor Awards ceremony in Washington, D.C. (Image by U.S. Department of Energy.)

This summer, Lewis was one of only 23 people across the entire DOE Complex to be recognized by the prestigious Secretary’s Awards Program. (Separate awards were also given to Argonne’s Linda Hansen, a principal nonproliferation policy analyst in the Strategic Security Sciences Division, and the Argonne team from the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research.)

To do an interdependency project effectively requires a lot of expertise,” Lewis said. So many people at Argonne were part of this. The validity and reliability of the methods and results are only possible with the diversity of the team we have here.”

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