RIAT Findings

2017 Hurricane Season Study Resiliency Findings Presented at National Harbor Safety Committee Conference

Petty Officer 3rd Class Brandon Hillard-Dist 8-Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Corey Drayton. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Brandon Hillard.

Joshua Murphy, from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration representing the Marine Transportation System Resilience Integrated Action Team (RIAT), presented the results of a study to identify the impacts, best practices, and lessons learned from the eventful 2017 hurricane season at the 17th Biennial National Harbor Safety Committee Conference in Houston at the end of June.

RIAT was established in 2014 to focus on cross-Federal agency knowledge co-production and governance for the purpose of incorporating the concepts of resilience into the operation and management of the U.S. Marine Transportation System (MTS). Resilience was defined as the ability to prepare and plan for, resist, recover from, and more successfully adapt to the impacts of adverse events.

These four steps were utilized by RIAT to identify methods for response and recovery improvements to publish the report, “The 2017 Hurricane Season: Recommendations for a Resilient Path Forward for the Marine Transportation System”. The report also offers recommendations by RIAT to advance the understanding of how the MTS can be better prepared for future storms and provide the coastal resilience community an example where Federal agencies managing the MTS are directly contributing to resilience enhancement.


The 2017 hurricane season included Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. These major storms affected the operating status of at least 45 ports throughout the lower continental United States and U.S. Caribbean territories, stressing the U.S. emergency response community and the MTS agencies to arrange and prioritize recovery efforts. Nevertheless, the MTS community successfully adjusted, communicating and engaging across sectors to quickly and efficiently reopen ports.

RIAT’s review of federal agency activities to restore the MTS operations showed several significant actions by each that contributed to positive resiliency outcomes. These common actions included conducting early planning meetings, communication between agencies, centralizing information distribution, and maintaining or updating existing response plans. Issues related to telecommunication and the prioritization of assistance to ports or other critical infrastructure were experienced by most MTS agencies. Lastly, the successes shared between agencies included engaging with the private sector to fill gaps in federal response operations, implementing local coordination efforts, and adapting and improving throughout the hurricane season as each storm presented new obstacles to overcome.

RIAT Study Findings

Major findings from RIAT’s efforts include:

  • Best practices for response and recovery:
  • Hurricane season kickoff meeting – held at start of hurricane season
  • Full-scale hurricane exercise with Captain of the Port (COTP) Port Coordination Committees
  • Pre-and post-storm port assessments
  • Prior coordination of interagency efforts for navigation channel reopening and Aid to Navigation verification
  • Clear lines of communication

Opportunities to enhance response and recovery efforts:

  • Tools and protocols for prioritization of recovery efforts at the regional or national level
  • Pre-staging of survey teams & equipment
  • Evaluating port status vs. channel status
  • Develop plans to aid port employees in returning to work
Recommendations for Increasing MTS Resilience:


  • Participate in yearly trainings and drills to ensure that response and recovery teams and stakeholders are educated with the correct skill sets and credentials
  • Incentivize preparedness by promoting proactive maintenance for infrastructure systems
  • Maintain pre-established contracting mechanisms for emergency response operations
  • Pre-identify staging areas and storage areas for response and recovery equipment, fuel, and supplies
  • Prioritize key infrastructure systems and deliveries for directing response and recovery actions
  • Identify critical infrastructure interdependencies and establish a multi-agency data sharing platform with a web-based interface


  • Share data across Federal agencies for recovery projects through interagency teams and data-sharing platforms that can be shared with State, local, Tribal, and territorial governmental coordinating councils and the private sector
  • Deploy MIST kits and NOAA National Response Team members to outfit vessels of opportunity with survey equipment (pilot vessels, barges, monitoring for critical energy services, etc.)
  • Utilize surge force and ensure appropriate management continuity
  • Embed MTS experts where necessary – USCG, FEMA field offices, local offices
  • Invest in Unmanned Autonomous Vessel technologies for pre and post-storm surveys


  • Hold interagency operations-related after-action reviews with a demonstrated commitment to communicating and implementing recommendations
  • Develop a common operating picture of the port systems interdependencies and authorities including owners, operators, dependent businesses, and prioritizations and essential land and maritime functions
  • Hold proactive planning scenario exercises and interagency training sessions where recommendations from the past season are communicated and incorporated
  • Hold a CMTS annual workshop to review the hurricane season
  • Ensure CMTS agencies are engaged in the National Disaster Recovery Framework for infrastructure systems so that land and maritime operations are considered in recovery and mitigation plans
  • Promote or consider new cutting-edge technologies to understand infrastructure redundancies and reduce vulnerabilities to multiple hazards and to improve port services or support in times of disruption or failure of operations

The 17th Biennial National Harbor Safety Committee Conference was organized by the Transportation Research Board of the National Academies in partnership with the U.S. Coast Guard. The Lone Star Harbor Safety Committee was the lead host for the conference, with the South Texas Waterways Advisory Committee serving as a co-host. Harbor Safety Committees are local committees of waterways stakeholders addressing issues that include the safety, security, mobility, and environmental protection of our ports and waterways.

To read the RIAT report in its entirety, visit: cmts.gov/downloads/CMTS_RIAT_2017Hurricanes.pdf.

  • Date July 25, 2019
  • Tags 2019 July