Arietta Chakos of Urban Resilience Strategies and a member of the Resilient America Roundtable opened the panel by stating that in the days preceding this workshop, there were discussions with community leaders from Charleston, South Carolina and Cedar Rapids/Linn County, Iowa, the first two communities that will work with the Resilient America Roundtable in a new pilot project. The Roundtable is working with decision makers and diverse stakeholders in communities to build their resilience and identify community priorities, risks that face that community, and ultimately design a community resilience strategy that the community would own. The pilot projects are based on four pillars of the 2012 Disaster Resilience report:
- understanding and communicating risk;
- identifying measures or metrics of resilience in terms of baseline conditions, milestones, or un/acceptable consequences of the identified risk/s;
- building or strengthening coalitions or partnerships in building community resilience; and
- sharing information or data related to better decision making for building resilient communities.
Criteria for consideration of working with a community included attributes such as community size, critical infrastructure, important economic supply chain nodes, demographic and economic diversity, and types of natural hazard risks the community faces. In addition to representatives from the two pilot community partners, Cedar Rapids/Linn County, Iowa, and the region of Charleston, South Carolina, representatives from Talbot County, Maryland and San Francisco, California participated on the panel.
The panelists included Sandi Fowler, Laura Cabiness, Clay Stamp, and Miriam Chion:
- Sandi Fowler, assistant city manager for the City of Cedar Rapids, Iowa has held positions in city government for nearly 25 years, working with neighborhood groups, citizen services, internal operations, and facility rebuilding from the 2008 flood. She now leads the departments of Public Works, Community Development, and Building Services, as well as economic development and development plan review for the city.
- Laura S. Cabiness, public service director for the City of Charleston, South Carolina, began her career working for the Department of Defense at Southern Division Naval Facilities Engineering Command. She subsequently worked for Keck and Wood, Inc., in Atlanta, Georgia and Florida Land Design, Inc., in Tampa, Florida prior to returning to Southern Division Naval Facilities Engineering Command in 1989. In 1990 she began her career with the city of Charleston, first as the city engineer and currently as the director of the Department of Public Service.
- Clay Stamp, county manager for Talbot County, Maryland, a rural county on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, oversees all affairs of county government on behalf of the Talbot County Council, the elected officials who serve as the governing body of Talbot County. Mr. Stamp began his professional career working for the Town of Ocean City, Maryland, eventually retiring as their emergency services director.
- Miriam Chion, director of planning and research at the Association of Bay Area Governments, is responsible for the development of regional strategies addressing social equity, economic vitality, and environmental challenges. Between 2004 and 2009, she was faculty at the Department of International Development, Community, and Environment, at Clark University, Massachusetts.
Ms. Fowler opened the panel by describing Cedar Rapids, which lies at the heart of Linn County in northeastern Iowa, as a primarily service-oriented economy with some manufacturing. Agriculture and agricultural-based products including cereals, corn, soybeans and oat processing are all predominant in the region. Cedar Rapids, named an All American City in 2014, recovered from massive flooding in 2008, which provided many lessons about resilience for the county and its decision makers, but also generated many questions. One goal of Cedar Rapids and the Linn County community is to build the language and professional understanding of resiliency within the community and to learn how to turn that understanding into a long-term vision that supersedes fiscal budget and election cycles. Cedar Rapids faces many hazards, including flooding, drought, tornados, high winds, and winter storm and ice damage.
In 2008, the major flooding event resulted in Cedar Rapids implementing a buyout program to acquire and demolish 1,400 structures out of 40,000 homes. This was a flood protection effort that spanned 10 miles along the Cedar River and cost approximately $570 million. Despite historic flooding and recent flash flooding in the region, there is a challenge to instill personal responsibility in the community, especially with regard to purchasing household flood insurance. Ms. Fowler stated that they are now preparing for the future rather than gauging efforts based on what happened in 2008. Cedar Rapids, she stressed, needs to plan for what they have not yet experienced. Although a key element of planning is collaboration within city government, increased sharing of resources and risk planning are also needed. The city government, Ms. Fowler noted, is a cohesive group and it is not a challenge to bring different departments and organizations together; however, it is necessary to keep that cohesiveness every day so that they are prepared when there is an adverse event.
Tourism is a key industry for Charleston, South Carolina, began Ms. Cabiness, and the city was recently named as the 59th best place for business and careers in the United States. Like many coastal cities, Charleston has a flat topography. Downtown Charleston is an eight-square mile peninsula, but the city has grown to a total of 110 square miles. The population has also grown in pace with the expansion of city limits, and there are many new people in the region who have not experienced Charleston’s hazards: hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, and ice storms.
Ms. Cabiness described her experience during Hurricane Hugo, a devastating event that hit Charleston 25 years ago. Her family stayed in their home, listening to the storm and trees falling nearby. The radio broadcast described the storm surge, and warned residents to move to the second floor because of flooding. Ms. Cabiness recalled that when the winds calmed down during the eye of the storm she thought they would not make it through, adding that those who stayed for Hurricane Hugo would likely never stay for another one.
When Ms. Cabiness started working for the city shortly after Hurricane Hugo, Charleston had recently completed a master drainage plan. The city received a $2.9 million mitigation grant, which allowed them to begin a structural improvement project to build a new drainage system. The drainage project began in the peninsula section of the city, which was a densely developed area where many of the streets had multiple utilities running underneath and much of the subsurface material was contaminated. Charleston opted over the next 10 years to install a deep tunnel drainage system, a 10-foot diameter tunnel buried 140 feet below the surface that captured storm water runoff during heavy rain events.
Charleston is installing another drainage system using an initial $10 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) Discretionary Grant program. This initial funding allowed the city to install surface drainage improvements, which helped them to receive another $88 million from the South Carolina Transportation Infrastructure Bank and a 50/50 match grant from the Federal Highway Administration. Charleston is anticipating to have spent nearly $230 million by 2020. It is important with all these improvements, Ms. Cabiness said,
to ensure constituents in rural regions benefit from these investments, and that efforts are not only focused on downtown.
Another critical activity is improving community planning, which includes discussions with business and community partners to move resilience forward. The city port and medical centers, for example, are key partners in the discussion and are helping to make plans that contribute to the overall resilience of the region. Ms. Cabiness concluded that short-term response, such as first responders; medium-term efforts, such as building codes and land development plans; and long-term regional planning are all key elements of the resilience planning effort.
Mr. Stamp outlined opportunities he sees as part of a movement to address resilience in a more comprehensive way. Talbot County, Maryland is a rural county with about 40,000 people, 5 municipalities, 12 villages, and nearly 650 miles of shoreline along the Chesapeake Bay. Moving from the emergency manager to the county manager, Mr. Stamp noted, shifted his perspective from emergency management to a broader local government-oriented view that required engaging with villages, organizations, mayors, and the public in a different way. It provided the opportunity to bring the communities together to identify elements that should be the foundation of resilience in the region.
Mr. Stamp described the elements—the pillars—that a community needs to be healthy, including public safety, health and welfare, economic stability, and education; identifying these pillars allows the community to better target their investments. One area for investment in Talbot County is along the shoreline; environmental and shoreline protection are pillars of the community foundation. Currently, there are six ongoing shoreline protection projects. There are additional opportunities to invest in new construction to boost resilience; for example, the replacement of a roof on a school is also an investment in education. When going into a new budget cycle, the risk for each of these pillars can be assessed in order to prioritize future investments. Mr. Stamp described a principle that he always followed as a disaster manager: in order to be successful in responding to a disaster, systems, projects, and programs need to be created that work every day so that they are in place and functional. Mr. Stamp finished by stating that a comprehensive plan, which includes a hazard mitigation plan, is a powerful tool to have at the local level.
Ms. Chion described examples of successes and challenges faced by the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) in building resilience. ABAG has been compiling data on and developing indicators for natural hazards and associated risks for nearly 30 years. It is a regional agency covering 9 counties, 101 cities, and 7 million people. Much of the data collected thus far are on economic indicators at the regional level, but they are now beginning to engage at the neighborhood level by designating priority development areas. One challenge to development will be that nearly 60 percent of the growth in the region is concentrated in only 5 percent of the region’s total area.
Through the Regional Prosperity Consortium, ABAG works with community representatives from across the region to address equity and implementation of resilience strategies; part of this work aims to integrate resilience to natural disasters into a number of other economic and social initiatives in order to address housing vulnerability. The focus, Ms. Chion said, is on protection from flooding and earthquakes, but also on a housing crisis; increasingly people are spending up to 70 percent of their income on housing and are being displaced as the average housing price in San Francisco has reached $1 million. It is necessary to integrate these social and economic considerations into regional planning.
In 2013, ABAG approved their first regional plan connecting transportation to housing and land use; similar plans, stemming from a 2008 state requirement, are being prepared by the major councils of government across the State of California. This comprehensive regional plan serves as a platform to work with local jurisdictions on how to incorporate these different elements of resilience into local plans. Ms. Chion stated that the association is compiling, in a systematic way, a housing vulnerability index to help support better dialogue with communities. The index is based on community profiles that allow for regional and local specificity for assessing housing costs and vulnerable populations. This index will also allow for estimates of how much affordable housing will be retained following a major disaster. Retaining functionality in terms of local business and services is a key component of these plans. Linking these resilience elements to long-term chronic problems, such as affordable housing, is one of the ongoing challenges with the Regional Prosperity Consortium, but overall has helped to have a more substantial dia-
logue among the residential, environmental, and business stakeholders. This dialogue is important for building trust, and has helped to engage and coordinate the administrators and supervisors between the city and county.
Question & Answers
Ms. Chakos highlighted a theme brought up by several of the panelists that local leaders need to adapt to changing political situations and be responsive to communities. Local leaders need to know how to use persuasion and influence in informative ways in order to reach communities and guide them in making good decisions. A member of the audience asked about what training the panelists take advantage of to train the next generation of leaders who will be working on resilience issues. The audience member also noted that working with colleges and universities to create emergency management-related courses and degree programs are necessary to ensure that the next generation is able to understand the complexity of the challenges that communities face. Ms. Fowler responded that they had a team of FEMA Corps members in their community last summer helping to finish recovery work.1 Next generation workforce development in the Cedar Rapids area is an economic priority, and although it is a challenge for the city to attract younger employees in general, the younger planners and engineers bring a new mindset and perspective.
Another member of the audience asked about the mutual benefit to building resilience that can be derived by partnering with local businesses. Mr. Stamp responded that partnering with the business community is an untapped resource. The challenge to these partnerships is the limitation imposed by government rules and regulations. It requires creativity and innovative thinking to establish partnerships with private industry, universities, and even other government agencies, but these partnerships provide a great opportunity to leverage grant money to accomplish goals that might otherwise be unreachable.
Another question focused on identifying gaps and information at the local level that would help to incorporate ecosystems as part of building resilience. Ms. Fowler pointed to the demolition project along the Cedar River, which created the opportunity to develop a 110-acre greenway. This greenway allows for natural flood protection, and has led to the identification of other natural areas that will be similarly maintained. Ms. Cabiness described a Greenbelt Program where a half-cent sales tax was enacted in which the funds were dedicated to purchasing green space around Charleston to aid in mitigating storm water. One of the challenges to these programs is that often development is already built up along high flood-prone areas, Fowler indicated. In some areas, if dikes were removed, natural wetlands would be restored, creating a more natural buffer to hurricanes and storms. However, homes are often built in areas that rely on dikes for flood protection. Finding areas that are not overdeveloped is a key factor in restoring these natural ecosystems to protect against flooding.
Another participant asked the panelists to provide two or three indicators that they feel would be most useful to their decision-making. Ms. Chion replied that there are two pieces of information that would help at the regional and local levels. The first is a better understanding of measures related to whom within the community has appropriate housing and who will have it after a major disaster. The second piece is related to infrastructure and interconnectedness. Because much of the infrastructure is privately held, there is a challenge in collecting data on the vulnerabilities. For example, being able to have better information on gas pipe infrastructure would help to predict future leaks or knowing about how water is supplied around a region would help to identify potential safe drinking water reservoirs following a major disaster. Ms. Fowler described vulnerability as a way for communities to use measures and indicators. It is necessary to evaluate building codes and public services to identify risks and assess if standards are appropriate enough to meet those risks.
1FEMA Corps members serve for a 10-month term plus an optional second year. The program aims to prepare thousands of young people for careers in emergency management and related fields by providing significant training and experience in disaster services and recovery.
Following on a similar theme, Ms. Cabiness stated that more information is needed on structural vulnerabilities; for example, one key metric they do not have is a count of how many structures are below base flood elevation. There are many structures that predate a 1974 flood insurance program that are likely below flood elevation and are vulnerable. This is also true for earthquakes in the Charleston region; there is currently no measure for how many structures are vulnerable to moderate or severe earthquakes. Another useful metric, Ms. Cabiness added, would be a measure of the economic impact of nuisance flooding. There is a dollar value associated with businesses closing or people staying home from work due to floods, and it would be helpful to have cost/benefit ratios developed to help prioritize projects.
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