Marketplace has a new podcast for kids, "Million Bazillion!" EPISODE OUT NOW

After Hurricane Sandy, a redesign of flood protection

Marketplace Contributor May 15, 2015

After Hurricane Sandy, a redesign of flood protection

Marketplace Contributor May 15, 2015

People like to say Superstorm Sandy was a wakeup call. As it approached New York City in October 2012, businesses there had no choice but to rely on an age-old technique.

“Sandbags!,” says Bryan Koop. He’s a vice president of Boston Properties, one of the country’s largest owners and developers of office buildings. “I’m pretty sure those were around when the Romans were building buildings.”

In the aftermath of Sandy, East Coast companies like Koop’s went in search of new ways to protect themselves from flooding. Since then many have made hefty investments in one particular product: the AquaFence. Boston Properties sustainability Manager, Ben Myers, says it’s the only good option out there.

“We did look at one inflatable solution that wasn’t as easily deployed and was inflatable, so it could puncture and – not work,” Myers laughs.

Boston Properties installed an AquaFence system around its signature property, Atlantic Wharf, which sits adjacent to the Boston Harbor. There’s no sign of anything different with the building until a storm approaches. When one does, a few workers pull out the AquaFence’s Ikea-like interchangeable parts from where they’re stored under the building’s parking lot.

“I’ve heard stories that when Sandy hit New York, there were trucks were stopped, material supplies were commandeered for the emergency response,” Myers says. “This is here, it’s secure, we’re not waiting for sand or supplies to be shipped in from an outside point.”

The team anchors each part of the fence to small hooks usually hidden under bricks surrounding the structure. When they’re done, the AquaFence turns the building into a walled city, with one difference: the side of the wall facing out—toward the encroaching storm water—is connected to a series of panels that lie on the ground. Floodwater is supposed to cover those panels on the ground, weighing them down and strengthening the whole AquaFence.

“We can keep this up piecemeal. We can keep our entrances open, we can keep our parking garage open, right until the last minute,” Atlantic Wharf property manager Barrett Cooke says. “We actually have portable staircases that would be strategically placed near our entrance points that are means for people to easily walk across it.”

Forty AquaFences have been installed around buildings in Manhattan and Brooklyn since Sandy. At a couple hundred thousand dollars each, it’s not a small investment. But the AquaFence’s big selling point is that you can put it up when you need it, fast.

“Eight hundred linear feet of fence—going up in a matter of a couple hours,” Koop marvels.

And it’s all reusable. Adam Goldberg, director of the New Jersey-based AquaFence company, says several AquaFences have been through floods multiple times successfully.

“There’s a grain facility in Hungary that has used the panels four times in four years,” he says.

Goldberg says the product is spreading fast—there are more than 50 in the US and another 20 in other countries.

“We had sales increases of about 200 percent, year over year, for the last three years in the US,” he says. “Last year alone we had over 40 projects.” 

We’re here to help you navigate this changed world and economy.

Our mission at Marketplace is to raise the economic intelligence of the country. It’s a tough task, but it’s never been more important.

In the past year, we’ve seen record unemployment, stimulus bills, and reddit users influencing the stock market. Marketplace helps you understand it all, will fact-based, approachable, and unbiased reporting.

Generous support from listeners and readers is what powers our nonprofit news—and your donation today will help provide this essential service. For just $5/month, you can sustain independent journalism that keeps you and thousands of others informed.