Dr. Gerald Galloway, research professor at the University of Maryland and member of the Resilient America Roundtable, moderated the panel Developing Resilience Indicators and Measures. The panel provided a global perspective on the role of national and international (European Union [E.U.]) governments in ensuring resilience. The panelists also discussed lessons learned from their experience with development, application, and/or analysis of systems of resilience measures and indicators. The panelists included Roy Wright, Thomas de Lannoy, Michael Szönyi, and Chuck Wemple:
- Roy Wright, deputy associate administrator for mitigation at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), is responsible for FEMA’s risk analysis and risk reduction programs. These include FEMA's Stafford Act authorities for mitigation, the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program, the National Dam Safety Program, and the National Flood Insurance Program. Mr. Wright is also responsible for FEMA Disaster Reservists within the Mitigation Cadre as well as the delivery of environmental and historic preservation technical assistance and compliance across all FEMA programs.
- Thomas de Lannoy, policy officer in the Directorate General for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection, European Commission, is responsible for the development and implementation of an E.U. framework for disaster prevention that encompasses risk assessment and management, data comparability and research, international relations (in particular the preparation of the E.U. position on the post-2015 Hyogo Framework for Action), and integration of disaster prevention into E.U. policy and financial instruments.
- Michael Szönyi, senior risk engineer with the Zurich Insurance Company, is currently working as a flood resilience specialist, assessing flood hazards and flood risks and advising the company and the alliance partners on risk insights and risk mitigation strategies as part of Zurich’s flood resilience program. Besides advising the community projects of the flood resilience program on technical flood aspects and supporting the alliance partners on flood resilience assessment and measurement, he is also leading the post-event review function and analyzing large flood events around the world.
- Chuck Wemple, chief operating officer for the Houston-Galveston Area Council, oversees all programs and services including transportation planning, community and environmental planning, public safety, and workforce development for that large metropolitan region. He has extensive experience in addressing infrastructure, housing, and economic recovery needs following Hurricanes Rita and Ike.
Mr. Wright began the panel discussion by stating that a compelling case for resilience ultimately needs to be made for every community, and that all elements of resilience need to be considered including economic, health and social services, infrastructure, ecosystems, and civil society. Actions can be taken to address multiple elements of resilience, but the elements addressed need to be important to and valued by the community. A key lesson learned while working with local elected leaders, Mr. Wright offered, is the importance of communicating these elements to community leaders in a way that reflects what is important to their community.
Mr. Wright proposed that having a measure or indicator that provides a single number for how resilient a community is may not be possible, or necessary. He gave the analogy of a parent researching test scores for schools across a state, but who chooses whether to relocate based not solely on the test score number but also on housing prices, length of commute, and other community factors. A measure of resilience, similarly, would need to take into account many factors across a community. From the federal government perspective, a lot of data are available at the national level that can be brought to support a community’s resilience assessment.
To take a long-term view, key indicators are required and better understanding of risk should be a priority. Mr. Wright cautioned that although no one opposes resilience, there could be negative reactions from a community regarding the term “high risk” however, exposure has to be understood in order to take appropriate action. For example, a lot of money is distributed from the Disaster Relief Fund, most of which is for public infrastructure, yet there is no list or clear understanding for what is covered under this program. It is not until after a disaster that people find out if they are eligible when requesting funds. This raises an important factor, the need for transparency in all these processes, and doing so in a way that provides consistent decisions yet enough flexibility to adjust to changing circumstances.
Mr. Wright concluded that it is necessary to advance the value of incorporating resilience measures and indicators into communities while also making them replicable, analyzable, scalable, and most important, usable. The most complicated or sophisticated tools and indicators are not going to be helpful if state legislators, county commissioners, or mayors are not able to understand and use them to make decisions about where to allocate resources.
Mr. de Lannoy stated that disaster prevention and resilience are now on equal footing with disaster preparedness and response across the E.U. New civil protection legislation exists to cover preparedness, response, and prevention. Part of this legislation obligates all 28-member nations of the E.U. to develop their own risk assessments, which can be based on qualitative and quantitative indicators. In order to receive E.U. funding to finance disaster response and disaster preparedness or prevention measures, a nation needs to show that their disaster plans are part of their national risk assessment. Currently, 17 member nations have developed national risk assessments; however, different methodologies are used resulting in data compatibility issues.
One tool Mr. de Lannoy highlighted was InfoRm—the Index for Disaster Risk Management. InfoRM is a risk-analysis tool designed to support decisions about crisis prevention, preparedness, and response.1 Although not predictive, InfoRm provides a systematic way to account for complex risk information in a decision-making process. The tool assesses vulnerability and is based on a partnership between the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) and the European Commission. Mr. de Lannoy highlighted five key principles that InfoRm adheres to:
- Global—uses datasets with global coverage
- Open—is open source and based on evidence collectively gathered and owned by public, agencies, governments, NGOs, and academia
- Continuous—includes five years of historical data to allow for immediate trends analysis
- Transparent—the methodology and data sources are published and available for review via a website that allows users to download underlying data
- Flexible—is designed to operate as a standalone model to establish a common, basic understanding of risk
Mr. de Lannoy explained that the tool is a composite index that combines the assessment of results, vulnerability, and coping capacity into one index. They key idea is to incorporate a range of indicators into a very simplified tool to assess risk.
Zurich Insurance Company recently launched the Global Flood Resilience Program, a part of its corporate responsibility strategy, began Mr. Szönyi, and partnered with the Wharton School of Economics at the University of Pennsylvania as part of a flood alliance in an effort to produce better analytics information necessary to develop a resilience tool. Part of the overall effort focuses on community programs, additional partnerships include the International Federation of Red Cross—Red Crescent Societies and the nongovernment organization Practical Action, which works to improve community flood resilience in various countries around the world. The program is currently active in Nepal, Indonesia, Mexico, and Peru.
It is really important, emphasized Mr. Szönyi, to be able to demonstrate impact. The Zurich Insurance Company has a 5-year Corporate Responsibility Program investing resources in the Global Flood Resilience Program and they need to show the program has improved the lives of people in communities at risk of flooding. Mr. Szönyi agreed that there is no one-size-fits-all solution, and added that the tool needs to be specific to the peril. The program is developing a measures tool with similar components used to assess earthquakes, wildfires, or other risks, but the data used will be very specific for assessing flood resilience.
Although flood resilience is assessed at the community level, defining a “community” can often be unclear. Mr. Szönyi explained that a community participating in the program is defined by identifying an area or entity where there is interaction and social cohesion, rather than by political or administrative boundaries alone. For example, they work with a community in Nepal that is separated by a river; although politically it is the same community, there is no exchange or cohesion across the river. Therefore the community has to be approached as two distinct communities.
To make the most impact, the tool that the Global Flood Resilience Program will develop is a decision and prioritization tool. The term “index” is not necessarily the right descriptor, Mr. Szönyi explained, because the aim is not to compare one community against another in a ranking system, but instead to use indicators to highlight a community’s strengths in flood resilience. Indicators with weaker scores would help prioritize solutions to improving resilience. The process also incorporates community decision makers and leaders in order to find a solution that would have real impact in their community.
Mr. Szönyi stated that the framework being developed is based on the sustainable livelihoods approach (SLA), a formal approach from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) for improving the understanding of the livelihoods of poor people.2 This approach is used in planning new development and in assessing the contribution that existing development has made to the sustainability of the community. There are two key components of the SLA: a framework that helps in understanding the complexities of poverty and a set of principles to guide action to address and overcome poverty. Mr. Szönyi said that there are five categories of capital following the SLA’s guiding principles that are used in assessing community resilience: natural, physical, financial, human, and social.
It is challenging to find meaningful indicators within each of those five categories that can be measured. The ultimate tool will be semi-quantitative using data, facts, and figures, but will also need a level of judgment in assessing a community. Mr. Szönyi noted that one of the key elements that Zurich teams bring is the expertise to help make those judgment-based decisions. To establish a resilience baseline, they are working with pilot communities over the next 5 years, which will help to prioritize the strengths and weaknesses of the program, and lead to actionable solutions. Progress will be measured in these communities over time to evaluate improvement towards being more resilient to floods. In an effort to capture the full breadth of the resilience spectrum, the program will test these same indicators in communities that are already reasonably resilient in order to ensure that the scoring is adequate. Mr. Szönyi concluded that these are iterative processes that require adjustments and continual improvement as more information is incorporated into the framework.
Mr. Wemple described a council of governments as a voluntary association of local governments established by state legislation. The Houston-Galveston Area Council (H-GAC) covers 13 counties, 20 cities, and is centered on Harris County and the City of Houston. The region is highly industrialized with petrochemical facilities and a major medical center. There are also suburban communities, rural areas, and coastline that make up the region, which are all located on the upper Texas coast and vulnerable to
hurricanes. The region is flat, and receives upwards of 50 inches of rain annually, which frequently results in flooding. The past year, however, has resulted in extreme drought conditions and wildfires, illustrating the range of risks from natural disasters to the region.
The governing board for H-GAC comprises local elected officials and is voluntary. The H-GAC cannot regulate, pass ordinances, or levy taxes; therefore, all initiatives are done through collaboration and persuasion. In 2009, Hurricane Ike made landfall in the region resulting in $7 billion in damages, with much of that damage in coastal communities. Increased natural disasters in the region led the state to designate H-GAC to review funding priorities from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant Program to help move towards a regional approach to resiliency.
The H-GAC came to recognize the importance of resilience from the long recovery time and high cost of not being resilient to natural disasters. Because their initiatives are voluntary, they work closely with local officials and their designees, and operate by relying on best practices and promoting flexibility and local control whenever possible in order to gain consensus. The H-GAC is assessing elements in the regional communities that they could monitor and measure to better evaluate progress towards resilience, such as physical vulnerability, participation in hazard mitigation action plans, evacuation plans, engagement in the community rating system, participation in programs like the National Fire Protection Association’s Firewise, and the use of natural buffers and green infrastructure to help mitigate damage from flooding and storm surges.
Mr. Wemple added that there is an unknown economic vulnerability that plays an important role in resilience. For example, many local governments in the region are heavily dependent upon sales tax revenue, and when a community is hit by a disaster, businesses are damaged and local sales decline. When 80 percent of a community’s operating revenue is based on sales tax, this becomes a major barrier to recovery. The H-GAC works with communities to help them develop a checklist and analytical processes to evaluate and better understand their level of economic vulnerability; for example, it is critical to help communities establish lines of credit prior to a disaster in order to keep them operational during recovery. Another key element to economic resilience is evaluating how dependent or over-reliant a community or region is on a large, single employer or sector of industry.
Mr. Wemple stated that the sooner employees are back to work and residents are back in their homes, the faster that community will recover and the stronger that recovery will be. There is, however, a chicken and egg conundrum with the recovery process. People will not move back home until schools and businesses are open, but businesses will not open again until people return to their homes. Opportunities exist to fix these barriers by having contracts in place to receive housing recovery funds quickly, and developing ordinances to permit temporary housing on a resident’s home site instead of on the edge of town or a different part of the region. A business network is also needed to keep businesses informed about when residents are back and workers are available to keep the local economy moving.
Mr. Wemple discussed surge protection as a key component of improving resilience in the region. Hurricane Ike was only a category 2 hurricane, but the storm surge was closer to a category 4 or 5 storm. Some communities had 18 feet of storm surge flooding that resulted in tremendous property damage and loss. One strategy H-GAC is employing is to bring two local universities together to discuss solutions and areas of commonality that can provide space for cooperation. Part of this planning involves taking a long-range view of resilience and incorporating that view into a regional hazard mitigation plan. That view is also part of the regional transportation planning efforts and regional economic development strategy.
An ongoing challenge to implementing these plans on a regional scale is complacency, cautioned Mr. Wemple. In the years since Hurricane Ike made landfall, most people in the region have recovered and moved on, and the growth of about 1 million new people to the region has resulted in a large portion of new residents not fully understanding the risk of natural disasters; a majority of the new population have never experienced a major flooding event. Mr. Wemple concluded by stating that important actions in overcoming the barriers to incorporating resilience in the Houston-Galveston Area’s communities include: increasing resources for resilience, finding flexibility by exploring many options, and helping keep decisions and actions at the local level.
Question & Answers
Dr. Galloway asked the panelists how they would identify and advise local leaders on the issue of organizational resilience. Mr. Wright stated that communities are composed of people that make up organizational resilience. It is the social fabric that allows for the whole community to recover from a disaster. Having this level of resilience, however, takes experience. There are community dynamics and organizational demands that change with time, and the community needs a holistic view of recovery and a willingness to make changes. Mr. Wemple stated that he views community organization as key to resilience. From H-GAC’s perspective, when the first round of federal disaster relief funding arrived for Hurricane Ike, it was quickly allocated with input from local governments. For the second round of funding, H-GAC convened a committee of local officials that has remained in place beyond Hurricane Ike to identify which communities need to add capacity to their local governments. Mr. Szönyi noted that the communities they engage are some of the poorest areas in the countries they work in, and so physical resilience plays less of a role than social structures, and that resilience needs that holistic view. For example, whether or not a school is physically resistant to floods is not as important as having a school that exists both as an idea and as an organization within the community. That allows for the idea of maintaining a school and education to persist.
Another participant asked the panelists to describe an example of how a local or regional decision maker has used the indicators or measures discussed, or how they could use them. Mr. Wright stated that the National Flood Insurance Program has 22,000 participating communities. When a community is willing to take affirmative steps to address structural elements, then those efforts can be quantified and will result in discounts in the premiums for that community. These discounts can range from 5 to 45 percent. This has provided incentive for communities to better assess their risk and ability to sustain themselves in the recovery from disasters.
Mr. Wright used Tampa, Florida as an example of a community that has taken a holistic approach to assessing their risk by incorporating eight different dimensions into their community plans. Tampa has laid out very specific actions to do post-disaster, but also started implementing actions pre-disaster. They identified hubs to attract more businesses and focused on improving infrastructure, and local decision makers took information about risk and priorities for the community and quantified those data to produce discounts for its citizens. Mr. Wemple stated that H-GAC worked with a number of local governments to use indices to prioritize disaster recovery funds and initiate large buyout programs for heavily hit regions. One challenge that resulted from Hurricane Ike was in identifying a metric that addressed indigent health care. The University of Texas Medical Center, which handles 80 percent of the indigent health care within the region, was closed following Hurricane Ike; this posed a challenge in providing care for vulnerable populations.
Mr. de Lannoy indicated that a key challenge is to develop a global index that can also be used by communities at a local level. Such a tool requires high resolution to be useful for prioritizing local planning and investment decisions. Mr. Szönyi followed with three points. First, an index needs to be an integrated tool that addresses the whole resilience process and is inherently participatory to working with communities, such as the Vulnerability and Capacity Assessment. Secondly, being more problem-oriented than solution-oriented is a useful approach. It is important as a development agency to not come in with a standard menu of solutions, but rather to work with communities to identify problems and then develop solutions. Lastly, pre-disaster loss prevention is very important—it is necessary to convince communities to take action prior to a disaster.
An audience member asked how building codes play a role in community resilience; building codes are implemented locally but often result from input at national or regional levels. Mr. Wright answered that building codes are possibly the single greatest mitigation tool that can be implemented at the community level. In the United States, there is the International Code Council that sets many of the building codes, but there are state-adopted codes as well. These codes have made real impacts.
A final question from the audience was about the challenge of thinking long-term, given that people think more about short-term returns. Mr. Szönyi replied that persistence is a key element of trying to push leaders to think in longer timeframes. This requires small steps that build momentum rather than finding the perfect, large-scale solution immediately. Another key element, Mr. Szönyi said, is that it is necessary to be able to assess how the resilience framework for a community is functioning in the absence of an event, which will help people to recognize resilience outside of the context of recovery. Mr. de Lannoy raised the issue of convincing policymakers to make necessary investments in the short term, using a cost-benefit analysis that takes a long-term view.
Mr. Wemple agreed about the importance of convincing residents and community members to think in the long-term, and then encouraging those community members, in turn, to convince local elected officials to take action. Elected officials are stewards of community assets and resources, and should be responsive to the community members who elected them to office. Mr. Wright pointed to the need to consider economic drivers in the community as part of long-term thinking, such as the role of insurance and private sector investments. Managing community infrastructure and economic capital requires measures and indicators that support evaluation of investments with a long-term perspective.