Ed Sniffen, Director of the Hawaii Department of Transportation, joins us to discuss the Hawaii DOT's Climate Resilience Action Plan.
AASHTO re:source Q&A Podcast Transcript
Season 3, Episode 39: Hawaii DOT - Planning for Resilience
Recorded: December 16, 2022
Released: February 7, 2023
Hosts: Brian Jonson, AASHTO Accreditation Program Manager; Kim Swanson, Communications Manager, AASHTO re:source
Guest: Ed Sniffen, Director for the Hawaii Department of Transportation
Note: Please reference AASHTO re:source and AASHTO Accreditation Program policies and procedures online for official guidance on this, and other topics.
Transcription is auto-generated.
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00:00:02 ANNOUNCER: Welcome to AASHTO resource Q & A. We're taking time to discuss construction materials, testing, and inspection with people in the know from exploring testing problems and solutions to laboratory best practices and quality management, we're covering topics important to you. Now here our host, Brian Jonson.
00:00:21 BRIAN: Welcome Nash to resource Q&A. I'm Brian Johnson.
00:00:25 KIM: And I'm Kim Swanson. And we have a very special guest today, Brian.
00:00:30 BRIAN: That's right, we've got Ed Sniffen Hawaii Department of Transportation's director for highways and chair of the AASHTO Committee on Transportation System Security and Resilience. Welcome to the podcast Ed. And congratulations on your new appointment as director.
00:00:45 ED: Hello and thank you so much. Happy to be here.
00:00:48 BRIAN: Yeah, so before we get into the questions, how has that changed for you now that you're director? I'm sure there's just a flurry of activity now, right?
00:00:55 ED: You know it's a lot of fun going from deputy director in charge of highways. I'm now running airports, highways and harbors so I can triple up the opportunities for movement in Hawaii.
00:01:06 BRIAN: Wow, that's great and seems like you are the right person because everything I've learned about what's going on with Ed Sniffen's name is tied to it. All of these great initiatives and innovations. We've been really excited to talk to you so, thank you for your time today.
00:01:20 ED: It's been a lot of fun.
00:01:22 BRIAN: Yeah, so I've invited you. First, we're going to talk about the role that DOT's play in risk identification and recovery efforts when dealing with natural disasters. And as I was looking into this, I stumbled upon Hawaii's climate resilience action plan. Can you tell us about that plan?
We put it into the plan because I mean like so many coastal states in the nation. We have significant impacts that are coming very soon, not just from the storm and weather events that we're expecting from climate change, not just from the extreme events that we expect to happen a lot more often. But for us if sea level rise it's a huge reality. We know that by 2100 we're going to see that 1-meter rise at least, and we know that 20% of our roadways are going to get impacted. So we know we can't wait to prepare for it. We wanted to make sure we started up now on the planning processes that are going to occur. The biggest piece for us is to make sure that we had our adaptation action plan set, but if you see our adaptation action plan, it's extremely internal focused. We have to make sure we reset policies in the way we do business and. The way we see things. To make sure that we're ready for the future, not just the replacement or elevation or relocation of that 20% of roles that are impacted. But also making sure anytime we touch roads or anytime we touch our infrastructure, we make them more resilient for what we know is coming.
00:02:43 KIM: You touched a little bit on some of the potential disasters that who I may face. Can you expand on some of that risk identification of those potential disasters.
00:02:53 ED: One of the biggest ones are volcanoes that that others don't necessarily. Have to deal with. In 2018, we dealt with Kilauea that pop the Fisher Open right in the middle of somebody's backyard. It was 600 to 700 residences and the hundreds of businesses that were impacted from that event. Significant coordination with our counties and federal partners. The significant coordination with our state agencies to ensure. First, we keep everybody safe and 2nd we could get in and recover as fast as possible. So the most recent one with Mauna Loa was a lot better. We had beautiful fountain views. We had beautiful views of the of the sneaking river of lava coming through, and the only thing at risk was one Rd. minor. And just from a overall perspective. I'll take that in a heartbeat. But those are the kinds. Of risks we got to negotiate. In Hawaii, along with landslides, a lot of our highways were built in areas where it used to be beautifully sculpted grand.
00:03:52 ED: That's weathered over time and it's now coming down affecting our infrastructure. We got to deal with the weather patterns that are coming through the biggest one of which uh, hurricanes and tornadoes in our area. But the Hurricanes most likely, we're looking at CAT5 potentials every year, every year when we see our hurricane season. We get really happy when we see the near misses that come true because we see dozens of them coming down the coast. Even weather events are extreme. Weather events don't even have to be associated with large storms anymore. We just see these weather events like in 2019 that inundated Kauai and caused 14 landslides. Through that area. So those are the big pieces that we have to deal with, along with ocean activity. The inundation is one thing, but that daily ocean interaction with our infrastructure causing erosion in different areas is just the. Reality right now.
00:04:45 KIM: So I may show some ignorance. I didn't know who I had tornadoes when you said tornadoes, I was very surprised. Didn't know that was a risk in Hawaii.
00:04:54 ED: Yeah, it's just every once in a while. It's not a big one for us, but one that we consider because it's not one that we know is. Right away.
00:05:00 KIM: We found a map on the Hawaii dot's website that kind of shows your assets and hazard assessments with the layered view. So we'll put a link to that in this podcast episode, but has that map been useful to you as the dot, but also to the citizens.
00:05:17 ED: Absolutely, when we start telling our story. To the public on why. We need to put resources in different areas. One of the most difficult things about resilience and resilience planning is. They're trade-offs. We're telling the public, we got to put more money into an area now to head off a problem. We know it's coming 50 years into the future. And everybody gets it, everybody understands it. But everybody still wants their roads repaved today. They want their bridges redone today. So when we start saying we cannot do this project because of this resilience effort, it gets difficult unless we can give them a visual interpretation or identification of what we're actually trying to. Get done so. Bringing that £900 gorilla that lives in 2100 to today.
00:05:59 ED: And that's what the viewer helped us do and the viewer is kind of like a step one, making sure that we could show the public what we're considering. We moved to Step 2. Now we work with Google on a resilience platform that not only shows the conditions of our system, the impacts that we're anticipating into the future, but it also shows other information that are really important to us. Our safety data that we get throughout the system where we have fatalities and major crashes. Our data on environmental justice, making sure that we take care of underserved communities equity is a big piece of that. Looking at how we can reconnect our multimodal areas. So all of these things are not necessarily resilience, but they should be considered in everything we do so that resilience platform that we're building gives us a better decision making tool that we can show to the public so everybody can see. It's not just the resilience that we're looking at, not just the capacity thing, not just the congestion thing we're looking at. All these different factors to ensure that when we put our resources forward, we're getting the biggest bang for our buck.
00:06:56 BRIAN: What other elements of planning do you get involved with this climate resilience action plan? I mean, obviously you've got partnerships. You just mentioned one, but I mean how can you look at your long term planning for resilience and for making sure that you address all these issues.
00:07:13 ED: Yeah, that's a great question. This is a community thing. It has to involve all of our counties. All of our state agencies, and our federal partners. But what we wanted to do is make sure that we could create headway on it if we waited for everybody at the beginning to get everybody aligned, it's very difficult to get movement, but if we move forward on an action plan that helps show what dot is doing, then it shows where the interfaces with all the other agencies are. For our office of planning that looks at our general plans for communities in our areas. Our General Services offices. We have all the state buildings, the part of education that has all the schools. When we start see it showing how our advanced planning ties into these different infrastructure is very very easy for everybody to see now big decisions got to be made on a statewide level so the push was to ensure that we hit our action plan first. Because transportation touches everything. Then start working with our Office of planning that has statewide authority over developments. Then we can start talking about real trade-offs here on our North Shore we have an area where 8000 homes are at risk. Just like our route is.
00:08:17 ED: So when that road is inundated in 2100, we believe those houses may be too. The big decisions we want to make here, right? We got to decide. Whether or not those homes are actually still going to be there, and if so, we got to protect it. We got to make sure we have a roadway that's connected to them. If we think that those. Houses cannot be protected, and we got to rely. Hate them, then we relocate and make sure that we put infrastructure in place to ensure that development. Of those homes. It can be replaced, but then I got. To decide, do I really? Need the road in that area anymore because. It was there to service them so. I can't make. That decision on my own, it's got to be considered on a statewide perspective. It's got to be go through legislation. To ensure that we can.
Start supporting it so those are all big domino pieces that got to make sure we're ready.
00:08:57 KIM: That is a lot of pieces into that puzzle, I think you explained it very well, though that is a lot of moving pieces and with the target dates and things like that that are unknown, right? Like you can, we can assume things are going to happen, but it's so unknown that in the year 2100 it could be. You know, it could be moved up. It could be pushed back, so yeah. That's just a lot that you're working with there.
00:09:19 ED: Right, that's just a round Number that because it's simple, but you yeah, you're absolutely right.
00:09:25 KIM: Yeah, so I can just imagine you need to prepare for a. You have to pick a date so you pick one but. You hope you're right and or hope you're wrong and it's farther off and you have. More time maybe? So for when you have to respond, you now have this. You know you have a plan, but what does the DOT's response look like when there is an emergency that you guys have to activate?
00:09:48 ED: You know, for better for worse, we're really, really. Good at it when. You start looking at our dot. This resilience plan. In the past it was Emergency Management heavy. We would build the same systems over and over that failed in emergencies over and over. So we we got really good at responding to these types of emergencies. Landslides flooding in different areas record we did really well with our state. Emergency Management and the county EOC. Is to ensure that when clear we could get out there and clear all the debris, get everything open, reconstruct roadway very, very quickly in that time frame if we have to respond during the event that protocols to do so, we're so good at it. We set up an all dark situation where there is no communication between us at the Home Office and those in the field. Relationships are set really well between us and our county partners and even the military to help out with the recovery of during those efforts.
00:10:43 ED: But as they said, it's a great thing that we're ready for. It was from our perspective was born out of our inability to plan for these types of emergencies and make sure our system is more resilient every year. So now instead of just responding to emergencies, making sure that the public is safe recovering as soon as possible and getting to everything open and reconstructing now and making sure we take those lessons that came out of those emergencies, put it back into our planning and design and construction processes to ensure that our system is more resilient and less affected by these big events that we know. Are coming every year.
00:11:16 BRIAN: So let's say that there is an actual event. That is unexpected. That hits Hawaii. Is there like a playbook that addresses exactly which actions are taken and who takes them and how that works?
00:11:27 ED: Absolutely, every year we drill this, the head of our Emergency Management Agency statewide is also the head of the National Guard and the and the tie is on. It's purposeful to ensure that we. Can put resources. Into play, but Emergency Management for Hawaii sets. Well, practice runs every year for us. So when we prepare for these CAT fives we prepare for where we stage all of our equipment where we have shelters open for the public to get to, where the evacuation routes are to ensure that we can prepare them prior to the events. It's all staged out. It's all run through to ensure. The highest probability of safety for the highest number of people. And the quickest recovery drone I'll just give you some examples of this when we run through these scenarios, we start talking about our priority versus another agency's priority, and in some cases we are showing a flooding event or a hurricane that knocked down telephone poles or electric poles for the dot.
00:12:27 ED: Our priority is to get that route open, so we're going to cut everything up and throw it on the side of the road. As fast as possible. Move it out of the way and get it open for people to use. But if we do that. Now we just. Delayed all of the recovery for power to get back in because all their poles are in 1-foot chunks on the side of the road and they have to bring in new material. So we have to adjust our operations to ensure that we're considering others missions as well, making sure that we keep all of the infrastructure as whole as possible while we do our due diligence. Being true, it has also helped us tremendously because in some areas when we hit two about two power lines that were down, we don't know if it's active or. But now our electric companies send people out with us on our operations. They can ensure things are down before we. Start moving things. So those practice runs every year. We do them bring up new considerations, new operational processes that make our recovery much, much faster.
00:13:20 BRIAN: Yeah, I know if I were a citizen of Hawaii listening to that right now, I would feel really good knowing that there are practice runs going on. That's really impressive. I had no idea that goes on and you guys have a really challenging situation. Being in Hawaii, because obviously you're really far removed from the mainland when there's a a hurricane that hits Florida. I mean, you see electric company trucks. Heading down from. The entire East Coast and central US driving down to Florida to start with the getting the power back on everywhere and construction companies lining up to get those contracts to start building. When you have an issue like that, you talked about materials, materials have got to be a real challenge in this kind of situation. How do you conjure up materials in contractors to do that, work right away to help out.
00:14:03 ED: Well, you're absolutely right. The materials are a big thing. And for us we try to pre stock them to ensure that we have some not only for routine maintenance, but for potential emergency situations like this. The great thing for us is we have contractors that are ready and. Willing to jump in. OK, so before these events occur, we start contacting those contractors that are trusted partners and they get themselves ready. They let us know what their stock. Looks like internally. That they could potentially put out there if necessary, so we try to prestige as much as possible. We try to depend on our partners operation to bring in the materials as quickly as possible when the all clear comes. Through, but you're right. Sometimes we just got to. Grit our teeth. And bear it as long as it's possible to ensure. That we're ready.
00:14:43 BRIAN: Let's talk about what comes next. The big picture, and I think what you've been excited about is redesigning for resilience. So what can you tell us what are some efforts that Hawaii dot is taking to redesign for resilience?
00:14:55 ED: Yeah, so the cool thing is, I mean after events there were several examples, I can share about how our federal partners helped us out tremendously, like a couple of them I mentioned when we had the 14 landslides on Kawhi when that storm event that historic storm event that broke national record in. Typically, if if this worked 20 years ago, federal highways and we would have coordinated to clear the debris and rebuild what was already there, even though it already showed it's going to fail. I mean, it'll fail again because we're expecting this type of rain event again, but in this scenario when we started working with federal highways, we started talking about how we make sure this event. Never had. Again, and how we project into the future the next 50 years? What types of events we're considering and how we make sure those events never impact this will be like that. Again, we redesigned to ensure that we protected the slopes that way, federal highways paid for 80% of it on emergency funds that were over and above the authority that we normally get in Hawaii. So they were huge. Partners in this. Ensuring that they don't just help us redevelop the system to open it and go business as usual, they got involved to ensure that we looked at the future.
00:16:04 ED: Looked at what we anticipated and looked to ensure that that roadway will never fail like that. Then did the same thing on Poly Highway. We had a landslide in that area where we had weathered rock that was impacted by three wedding and drying cycles and we had 25 truckloads of material that fell into the tunnel area and blocked that area off. So instead of just clearing that debris. Putting up the. Slope a little bit and opening it up we. Shut it down for nine months. And in that nine month timeframe, we extended the tunnel portions out to ensure that we protected people at the source, so we never have to worry about a rockfall in that area again impacting anybody. That's for good reason, because that large landslide came down after a little small dirt debris that. We're doing that 30 degree. Our guys went out there, took a look at it and said hey we got we should clean this up before more comes out. So with that little debris that that was just. Impacting the shorter we shut.
00:17:00 ED: Down that highway for a little while. About 2 minutes later, that huge landslide came through and for us it was just pure dumb luck that that somebody had killed. It's kind of eye opening to see if that occurred when that highway was open. People would be dead and also. Like so we weren't going to cut any corners and getting that thing open and ready again, we made sure that we had provisions for the public to travel during that during the peak times. But there's other ones they could use on off peak, so we shut it down. We rebuilt the tunnel section that protected everybody and federal highways paid for 80% of that as well. So they were huge partners in and not only getting it funded, but also going through emergency procedures with all of the four agencies to ensure that we can get that done in nine months versus two years.
00:17:46 BRIAN: Wow, that's really impressive. I am just really astounded at what a great job the Hawaii dot has done. In addressing all of these issues and making the information available to the public, how is the public responded to that? I mean, do they use the information? Do you ever does anybody from the dot ever get feedback questions about it and people who say thank you for doing this?
00:18:08 ED: Not so many times you know for us.
00:18:10 BRIAN: They're not, they're not out there. Thanking all the highway workers as they you know are out there doing doing, working on a project. You know, I I have yet to hear somebody say yes that they get a lot of thank yous.
00:18:24 ED: The great thing is, we know that and this is just doing regular normal project processes and emergency site. We only hear from people who know really upset. So when we don't hear from them, we can take that as. A thank you.
00:18:38 KIM: I like that outlook like if we don't hear anything, we're going to assume thumbs up. Thank you.
00:18:44 BRIAN: Yeah, so for you. Actually anybody who's listening to this, especially if you're in Hawaii. We're going to post link. Thanks to both the Climate Resilience Action plan and the asset and Hazard assessment maps that Jim mentioned earlier found on hidot.hawaii.gov/resilience. You can find out so much more about what's been going on. All the great efforts that are there to make your life better. We anytime we talk about dot. Work we always talk about what great public servants everyone is working. At the DOT's. And as we've talked to people from the Y dot about a number of things lately, that has been the case. Got a great staff there working for you. I'm sure you know that already though.
00:19:26 ED: I totally agree with you. We got amazing, amazing people that work for us and we also have amazing partners, not just federal highways. But Astro has been tremendous getting feedback and feed in from other state heads of agency and their. Staff through help. Helps us make decisions a whole lot faster versus trying to recreate the wheel in. In all cases that we do.
00:19:44 BRIAN: All right, well thank you so much for your time today Ed.
00:19:47 ED: My pleasure.
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