Before a single raindrop fell, Alan Leidner knew the waters could rise and throw the city into darkness. On this point, the maps were as clear as a crystal ball. All you had to do was look.
It was 2010, and Leidner was consulting for the government services company Booz Allen Hamilton Inc., contracted by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to identify potential threats and vulnerabilities in the nation’s critical infrastructure. Leidner was examining a region that included New York and New Jersey. One day he was thinking about the area’s electrical power grid. He consulted some flood projection maps the Federal Emergency Management Agency had prepared. Then he stared at a map of the grid maintained by Consolidated Edison Inc., the region’s power supplier. And it just jumped out at him: The substation at East 13th Street, on the banks of the East River, was smack in the middle of a flood zone.
Leidner voiced his concerns with utilities, hospitals, and other major facilities. “The reaction was mostly, ‘Eh,’ ” he recalls, as we sit in the Tribeca offices of the Fund for the City of New York, where he directs the nonprofit organization’s Center for Geospatial Innovation.