Port of New Orleans

How can a large port facility prepare to better withstand tropical storms and hurricanes?

As part of the Lower Mississippi and Gulf Coast region, the Port of New Orleans (PONO) is often subject to natural hazards, particularly hurricanes, and is vulnerable to storm surge, flooding and strong winds that often accompany these storms. The Port of New Orleans was badly hit during Hurricane Katrina. And although the port was operational within 2 weeks, some portions of the port were closed for months. Investment of over $400 million in new facilities at the Port over the past decade; however, there was little regulation of the design or construction of these facilities with regards to natural hazards. This left the Port of New Orleans exposed to multiple, foreseeable risks that could undermine the resilience of the Port itself as well as the greater regional economy.

Container Ship at the Napoleon Avenue Terminal. Photo by Gnovick via  Wikipedia .

Container Ship at the Napoleon Avenue Terminal. Photo by Gnovick via Wikipedia.

The New Port of New Orleans Design Guidelines Manual establishes standards for future construction, modification, and rehabilitation for all port facilities and infrastructure. These guidelines will minimize damage from future storm events, with minimal restrictions on techniques and materials used in the design and construction process. In addition, the Port intends to provide training to staff engineers to implements the new guidelines and standards.


Resilience Planning in Action


The Port of New Orleans, like all ports, contends with the intersection of land and water. The frequency of tropical storm and hurricanes in the region compound the risks to the port, through storm surge, flooding, and strong winds. Rising sea levels and diminishing natural buffers from coastal wetlands are further exacerbating these environmental risks. However, even with these severe threats, the environmental impacts to particular structures within the large port complex can vary widely.

  • Considers and prepares for all types and impacts of flooding: standing or slow-moving water, storm surge, wave run-up, outflow of floodwaters, strong currents, flood-borne debris, erosion and localized scour.
  • Responds to the latest analysis and flood risk maps by FEMA in designating appropriate mitigation and BFE for different structures.
  • Recognizes that sea level rise and long-term erosion will compound the extent and magnitude of actual flood hazard that a coastal building will experience over its lifetime. Therefore more stringent standards and higher levels are encouraged than those that simply respond to current conditions.
  • Requires strategic onsite placement of water and wastewater facilities to minimize the likelihood that discharge of effluent in a storm event could pose a risk to public health, and to ensure that potable water not be affected by contaminated surface runoff.


The infrastructure of the port facilities, buildings, and auxiliary structures are critical to the resilience of the entire port. Clear sets of standards and guidelines ensure that these structures will withstand foreseeable flood and wind hazards.

  • References to specific sections and sub-sections of codes, ordinances, standards and guidelines by the IBC, the ASCE, the USACE, and FEMA are provided throughout this manual. (Table 3) This clarifies exactly which requirements should be used for what types of structures or conditions, as outlined in the manual. Furthermore, definitions, such as definitions of material classifications cross-reference Army Corps and FEMA standards. (Table 2) This also ensures clarity for contractors, and for agency requirements.
  • As all facilities and structures cannot be constructed or retrofitted to withstand the highest flood, surge, and wind impacts, the manual explains how design standards should be determined based on risk or occupancy category of structure classification.
  • A list of best practices for securing rooftop equipment in high-wind events is included and explained. (Section
  • Provide a flowchart with a clear set of checks and recommendations to evaluate preparedness of structures to withstand wind hazards. (Appendix A)
  • Includes construction document details showing typical construction practices used at the port, to provide clarity in expectations and standards for the port as well as outside contractors. (Appendix B)


The first goal for hazard mitigation of the port is to protect life at the Port of New Orleans. The resilience of the port also has wide ramifications for business resilience in New Orleans, southeast Louisiana, and the broader economy. Securing such critical infrastructure and economic drivers is critical to the resilience of the region.

  • Recognizing that even in the event of evacuations due to an extreme storm, personnel might remain at the port to assist with response or recovery, due to critical facilities, or to ensure continuity of operations in the immediate aftermath of a storm, the manual requires adequate provisions to protect human life at the port, such as promoting a safe room or storm shelter to provide life-safety protection.

Recognizing the important role that the port plays in the local (as well as regional and national) economy, the manual encourages classification of occupancy, which determines the level of flood or wind protection, to take into consideration the importance of safeguarding building contents that are critical to reviving economic functions.