March 10, 2021

Helping Federal Facilities Navigate Resilience Planning

PNNL builds and pilots a new resilience planning tool for assessing risk to energy and water services

Energy Sciences Research Building with Technical Resilience Navigator Logo

PNNL is testing the TRN in its Richland campus to identify risk to its energy and water systems and develop and prioritize solutions to enhance campus resilience.

(Composite image by Shannon Colson | Pacific Northwest National Laboratory)

As climate events and security breaches increase in severity and frequency, people are beginning to realize just how devastating threats and hazards can be to a facility’s water and energy supplies—and ultimately an organization’s mission.

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) is currently piloting the U.S. Department of Energy’s Technical Resilience Navigator (TRN), a novel web-based resilience planning tool co-developed by PNNL in partnership with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) for the Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP). The TRN helps users identify and manage risk to mission-critical infrastructure from disruptions in energy and water services.

As part of this pilot, PNNL is testing the TRN at its Richland campus to identify risk to its energy and water systems and develop and prioritize solutions to enhance campus resilience. Other federal sites are also piloting the TRN and providing feedback to FEMP to guide future improvements of the tool.

The TRN uses a risk-informed approach to identify and address site-specific vulnerabilities, hazards, and threats to critical loads. By using the TRN, users can understand if a facility’s water and energy supplies can sustain mission-critical functions, both under normal operations and under disrupted conditions.

“Billion-dollar disasters have been growing in recent years,” said Julia Rotondo, project manager for distributed systems research at PNNL. “While emergency response plans can help respond to disasters, holistic planning helps anticipate, withstand, or reduce the impact from energy and water supply outages caused by a host of changing conditions.”

“This is important,” said Rotondo, “because water and energy requirements are not always considered in detail during business continuity planning. But these very systems are the ones that support the continuous operation of an organization’s most important equipment—like the cooling towers that help run PNNL’s high-performance computing systems and support important safety systems, like safety showers.”

Investing time and resources in resilience planning can help reduce the risk of disruptions and help prevent future costly or impactful problems. In 2017, the National Association of Building Sciences conducted a study that found every $1 spent on hazard mitigation or resilience saves the nation $4 in future disaster costs from infrastructure mitigation.

Strengthening resilience through risk-informed decisions

The TRN currently walks users through a series of five interactive modules with supporting tools and resources. The step-by-step planning process covers site-level planning, baseline development, risk assessment, solution development, and solution prioritization. Additional resources are being planned for release later in 2021. The PNNL pilot team is focusing on currently available material.

“The TRN helps you think about how different risk drivers can inform resilience solutions, and how you prioritize solutions in light of multiple decision criteria—like an organizational efficiency goal or sustainability goal,” said Rotondo.

Although TRN is designed for existing building and campus operations, it can be used to inform campus planning efforts, like designing buildings with resiliency features in mind.

“The entire process is holistic and iterative. When planning for resilience, you need to look at the entire picture, because solutions are rarely one-size-fits-all,” said Rotondo. “For example, installing dozens of diesel backup generators across a campus may be cost-effective in the near-term but may not be the best solution for mission assurance, sustainability, and other objectives.”

Depending on the site or facility operator’s objectives and risk factors, the TRN can help identify the potential impacts of different solutions, like consolidating critical loads and designing a microgrid to provide emergency backup and other benefits (e.g. utility peak-shaving).

“TRN is unique because it’s free, flexible, open to the public, and broadly applicable across many types of site. The methodology we use is transparent, making it easy to be picked by and used by anyone,” said Rotondo.

Building a culture of resilience

As part of piloting the TRN, Rotondo worked with Jennifer Su-Coker, an Energy Program Manager at PNNL, to create a resilience planning team that drew from PNNL’s deep expertise in facilities, resilience, and energy use. This multidisciplinary resilience planning team completed a total of 40 stakeholder interviews to get an in-depth understanding of PNNL’s critical water and energy demands. The team used energy and water load requirement calculations to inform a risk assessment to understand the risk drivers at the site.

Rotondo said some users may be surprised to learn where critical loads lie within their operations. “There’s a tendency to say, ‘this building is important, protect it,’ but by going through the TRN, you might realize what’s truly important is a room of low-temperature freezers within that building. Protecting that could take several technical measures, or it could be as simple as giving operators of backup systems training on their start-up and maintenance.”

The TRN empowers leadership and building managers to make those decisions by understanding what features are needed to continue to fulfill an organization’s mission under disrupted conditions.

Although the final results of the pilot project will not be completed until the end of 2021, the program is already yielding some promising findings and generating lessons learned.

“The biggest lesson we have learned so far is how necessary it is to have a strong resilience team with varied backgrounds that can draw from different experiences,” said Su-Coker. “Resilience is a multifaceted issue that requires a willingness to think about things from different angles.”

“PNNL was proud to partner with FEMP for this pilot,” said Rotondo. “PNNL’s concept of the ‘living laboratory’ gave us the opportunity not only to provide feedback regarding the tool and its methodology, but also to identify resilience solutions that enhance the resilience posture of our Richland campus. PNNL is setting an example for what the future of building resilience looks like.”


About PNNL

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory draws on its distinguishing strengths in chemistry, Earth sciences, biology and data science to advance scientific knowledge and address challenges in sustainable energy and national security. Founded in 1965, PNNL is operated by Battelle for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, which is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States. DOE’s Office of Science is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit For more information on PNNL, visit PNNL's News Center. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram.