When Hurricane Sandy hit New York City on Oct. 29, 2012, it left in its wake a nearly worst-case scenario. Though the storm was downgraded to a post-tropical cyclone just before it made landfall, Sandy’s impact was disastrous. Its storm surge occurred at high tide, resulting in a storm tide of over 14 feet at the Battery at its highest point and flooding 51 square miles of the city. Homes, businesses, hospitals, power facilities, and key components of city infrastructure, including the subway system, were inundated. Millions were left without power. The storm closed the New York Stock Exchange for two days and New York City public schools for an entire week.

“It was devastating,” says Daniel Zarrilli ’97. “We lost 44 lives in New York City. There was $19 billion in damages and lost economic activity, and in our communities all over the city, the impacts were devastating.”

Three years later, Zarrilli helms the effort to ready the nation’s most populous city for the next big storm.

As senior director of climate policy and programs, Zarrilli oversees the Mayor’s Office of Recovery and Resiliency of the City of New York as well as the Office of Sustainability. He supervises the city’s climate mitigation efforts and leads the development and implementation of the $20 billion OneNYC resiliency program, which prepares New York City’s neighborhoods, economy and public services to withstand the impacts of climate change and other threats.

Zarrilli’s job, he says, isn’t one he might have imagined for himself while studying in the department of civil and environmental engineering at Lehigh.

“There was no similar position ever before [Hurricane Sandy],” he says. “[But] I was always interested in the intersection of infrastructure and the social impact of that infrastructure in our communities. So in some ways, it was a natural progression to where I’ve gotten to.”

Read the full story at the Lehigh University News Center.

-Kelly Hochbein is a Communications Associate with Lehigh University's Office of Communications and Public Affairs.