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News Release

Release Date: October 20, 2005

NETL has an unique role of tracking and coordinating damage information by storms like Katrina, Rita and Wilma on the Nation's energy infrastructure.

When you think of a hurricane and its potential consequences, you probably think of locations on the ocean and of relief agencies that move into affected areas to help the residents deal with the losses of life and property.

The Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) is nowhere near an ocean, but at the first breath of a hurricane, it has a team of researchers who spring into action to provide vital information about the energy infrastructure – natural gas supply, oil supply, electrical generation and transmission, coal transportation, demographic and general transportation issues along with economic impact and the associated interdependencies the interruptions would cause.

Most people take for granted that there will be adequate supplies of energy to meet their needs. The extensive damage caused by Hurricane Katrina shows just how valuable – and vulnerable to natural disasters – the energy supply system is. Some estimates after the hurricane finally ended its destructive journey ashore were that it would be weeks before power could be completely restored to areas hardest hit by Katrina. Then, right on Katrina’s heels, Hurricane Rita began threatening the Gulf Coast as a Category 5 hurricane and people began worrying that Rita would cause as much damage.

Starting with the hurricanes last year, NETL’s Energy Infrastructure and Security Research Group has been doing emergency coordination and analysis and providing the information to DOE headquarters in Washington, D.C. NETL coordinates a multi-lab DOE response team that includes Los Alamos National Laboratory, Argonne National Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories. The team is called the Visualization and Modeling Working Group. Energy Infrastructure and Security Research Group

The Energy Infrastructure and Security Research Group in the National Energy Technology Laboratory’s Office of Science and Engineering Research develops capabilities to analyze U.S. energy infrastructure and provide support to the Department of Energy’s Headquarters in energy emergency exercises. From left to right, group members Frank Hutchinson, computer scientist; Lee Dougherty (standing), engineer; Keith Dodrill, engineer; and Ray Lopez, geologist, study energy infrastructure data in a geospatial information systems format.

While a full VMWG team activation was not needed for every hurricane last year, NETL played a role for the hurricanes that came to land by doing pre-storm and post-storm analysis. NETL has done analysis so far this year for every significant hurricane, including Katrina and Rita.

NETL researchers generate maps that show various components of the energy infrastructure – transmission lines and pipelines, for instance – and couple the locations with data that give current information about the status of the components.

NETL has been involved in coordinating and providing information back to DOE on an ongoing basis ever since Katrina touched land, and continued providing information while Rita brought its own destructiveness ashore. The analyses cover outage and restoration progress. NETL provides the information to DOE’s Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability.

“We started watching Katrina from the moment it was named,” says Keith Dodrill, an engineer and group leader in NETL’s Energy Infrastructure and Security Research Group, as he ran assessments about Rita’s potential impact. “We did a preliminary analysis when it came across Florida. Amazingly, even as Katrina’s destruction is still being addressed, we’re now watching another hurricane that has been classified as a category 5.”

At the time of that preliminary analysis, Katrina was projected to be a minimal storm that would skirt the coast of Florida and cause little damage.

That changed dramatically on the Saturday when Katrina became a major Hurricane.

NETL’s initial preliminary analysis role changed, too. The multi-lab team was called into action on Saturday to do a full analysis, looking at the natural gas and oil pipeline production and refinery system, the analysis of impacts of electrical outage and restoration of electricity, and an economic impact analysis based on the electrical analysis.

In cases of an emergency, NETL has to provide visualizations back to DOE headquarters within an hour. The procedure calls for NETL to provide the total analysis, including input from the other national labs, within eight hours.

NETL is able to overlay a hurricane storm track over the maps showing locations of energy infrastructure components, using information from the National Hurricane Center and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Los Alamos provides damage contours based on storm tracks and wind speed projections, and NETL and the other labs incorporate those contours into their own analyses. Keith Dodrill

Keith Dodrill, an engineer and group leader in the Energy Infrastructure and Security Research Group in the National Energy Technology Laboratory’s Office of Science and Engineering Research, tracks the path of a hurricane to determine the potential impact on energy infrastructure. Dodrill’s group provides support to Department of Energy Headquarters in energy emergency situations.

DOE distributes the NETL report to its senior managers and then it goes to the Federal Emergency Management Agency to use in its response to the emergency.

NETL has the role because it combines Geographical Information System information on locations of power plants, refineries, and other infrastructure features with experienced engineering knowledge of energy infrastructures to analyze potential impacts. This allows the NETL group to respond quickly. Also, NETL is the only national laboratory operated by DOE employees.

Dodrill points out that the capability to do energy infrastructure analysis could be made available to communities if they needed help in assessing the impact of an emergency on energy components.

But he hopes no community ever experiences the terrible physical damage and dislocation of people and businesses caused by the twin beatings administered by Katrina and Rita. “In terms of infrastructure damage, Katrina probably will overshadow every storm we’ve ever seen,” Dodrill said as he kept a close eye on Rita. He maintains that hope even today as he and other members of the team stand poised for action in the event of another hurricane or other emergency that could threaten the energy infrastructure.


Contact: David Anna, DOE/NETL, 412-386-4646