ASU team helps Marine base prepare to stay strong in the face of disaster

By

Scott Seckel

Disasters stop normal life dead in its tracks. Schools, stores and businesses shut down and wait it out.

But what if that’s not an option? What do you do if you have to keep operating, no matter what has happened?

That’s what Marines do, and that was the question Arizona State University experts helped answer at a recent exercise held at Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe Bay on Oahu.

Some military infrastructure can be built with codes and standards that are 30 years old, and base buildings can be 60 years old or more.

“They weren’t built to withstand the types of threats — increasing incidents of severe weather, cyberattacks — which weren’t present back then, or different types of advanced weaponry that can assault buildings or personnel,” said Nathan Johnson, an assistant professor in the Polytechnic School of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at ASU. Johnson is an expert on sustainable and resilient energy systems.

Marine Corps Installation Command asked a team of seven ASU experts to visit the base to help them understand problems and develop solutions related to base resiliency in the areas of energy, food, water, communications and mobility: If the Corps is going to spend billions of dollars on infrastructure that needs to be around for 60 years or more, what will that look like?

The exercise was part of a series of events the Corps is holding called Installation Next. Considerations include resiliency and combat support.

The Corps contacted ASU’s flag officers, wanting to work on the concept of base resiliency.

“We’ve had some work with them in the past, and they wanted to firm up the relationship,” Johnson said.

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Benjamin Freakley, special adviser to ASU President Michael Crow, looked for ASU experts in the field.

“Clearly, Arizona State University is the innovative partner that has the interdisciplinary talent to support the Installation Next Hawaii symposium,” said Freakley. “ASU was the first university to establish a sustainability school in the U.S., and we remain the national leaders in that space. We have the right expertise and passion to assist our Navy-Marine Corps team in finding sustainability solutions to bolster resilience so they can advance their mission unimpeded.”  

Mikhail Chester, an expert in sustainable infrastructure and an associate professor in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, also brought a cohort to the exercise.

Day 1 of the exercise looked at threats: “Take a punch." Day 2 looked at maintaining critical operations: “Stay standing." Day 3 was about response: “Punch back.” (Although a response could also involve community disaster relief.)

The problem the ASU team worked on was how do you connect a diversity of assets that are not all susceptible to the same type of threat? If half the assets are affected, how do you maintain critical operations with the remaining half? If there’s an extreme event, whether it’s kinetic cyber, or natural, how do you change the configuration of those assets around on the fly so you can rearrange power infrastructure from noncritical areas to critical areas? If you’re at 25 percent capacity on your electrical infrastructure, how do you maintain 100 percent capability to carry out your mission? For example, if a similar situation occurred in your home, you’d run an extension cord from a generator to critical appliances like the refrigerator, not the TV or dryer.

“It’s those types of broad problems which do not have solutions today which we need to work on,” Johnson said. “There’s no solution today. Give us a solution that could exist in 10 to 20 years.

“At the conclusion of those three days we identified potential threat vectors, ways to maintain resiliency in imminent danger from a natural disaster, kinetic attack, or cyberattack, and then for a response, whether that be, you need to shore up and maintain your facilities for 14 days to project force, or to potentially provide support for a humanitarian action,” he said. “If you get hit by a hurricane, it’s hard to help someone else if you yourself cannot stand up.”

At the end of the exercise, participants curated about 50 ideas, each with a problem statement, areas of solution in technology, policies or people, and deliverables and resources to solve each problem.

The results will be fed into an innovation challenge or process funded by the military. Part of this will be managed by the ASU Research Enterprise, the university's applied research and development arm that specializes in delivering programs, processes and strategies to rapidly drive innovation into fully executed solutions.

Tom Lyons, director of facilities management at ASU’s Polytechnic campus, also took part in the exercise. Lyons is familiar with Marine Corps Base Hawaii, having been director of facilities there when he retired from the U.S. Navy in 2017 as a commander. He explained the significance of the work.

“With ASU being a leader in innovation, the ASU team of facilitators played an instrumental role in leading diverse teams to identify, refine and present solutions to improve the resiliency of utility systems on Marine Corps installations,” Lyons said. “Unlike other organizations that may be able to suspend or pause their mission after an unforeseen event or threat, the Marine Corps needs to be ready at all times. That is why the work we did was so important in identifying ways to improve the resiliency of the water and electrical systems on Marine Corps installations.”

“Installation Next is only the beginning,” said Lt. Col. Brandon Newell. “These solutions will continue to be refined. … The end goal is to develop pilotable solutions that will not only benefit Marine Corps Base Hawaii, but all of our installations around the globe.”

Top photo: Assistant Professor Nathan Johnson poses for a portrait at the Polytechnic campus on Oct. 25. Johnson's work focuses on solar technology and how to innovate energy resources, smart networks and off-grid solutions in the Laboratory for Energy And Power Solutions (LEAPS) lab. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now