The term “ground truth” refers to the practice of using direct observation to analyze and verify information (Carp, 2008). The committee “ground truthed” resilience measurement in communities by meeting with local stakeholders.
Charge 4 of the committee’s Statement of Task instructed the committee to “confer with community leaders and decision makers . . . about the approaches, challenges, or successes they have encountered in measuring resilience in their respective communities” (see Box 1-2). The committee visited eight communities to learn which measurement frameworks and tools they are using and to understand the successes and challenges they have had in their measurement work. This chapter addresses Charge 4 and presents key findings and observations from these community visits.
The community visits revealed that few communities are actively measuring indicators of resilience or using the resilience measurement tools discussed in Chapter 2. Nonetheless, the community discussions provided useful information about communities’ resilience building efforts and the challenges they face in attempting to measure or quantify their resilience successes. This chapter describes the eight places the committee visited, community members’ reflections about measuring resilience, and common themes that emerged across this diverse set of communities (see findings in Box 3-1).
The committee visited seven communities—New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Gulfport and Waveland, Mississippi; New York, New York; and Rapid City and Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota—and conducted a videoconference with local government officials in Minot, North Dakota (see Figure 3-1; Appendix D provides a brief description of each community).
The committee sought a diversity of perspectives and selected communities with varied hazards and risk profiles, demographic and socioeconomic profiles, geographic location, and population size. The committee also considered population density, given the differences and variations in the drivers of disaster resilience and capabilities between and within regions (Cutter, Ash, and Emrich, 2016). The committee conferred with leading experts, decision makers, community leaders, and practitioners in local government, the private sector, the nonprofit sector, research centers, and academic institutions. In addition, committee members who worked extensively in communities through the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Community Resilience Program and the National Academy of Sciences’ Resilient America Program briefed the committee about relevant work supporting resilience efforts in Boulder County, Colorado; Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Charleston, South Carolina; Central Puget Sound region, Washington; and Tulsa, Oklahoma. Appendix E provides a brief description of these communities.
Two of the eight selected communities were large, urban areas and members of the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities1 network (New Orleans and New York City), and three were smaller and more rural (Minot, Pine Ridge Reservation, Waveland). Table 3-1 provides a list of recent disasters in the eight communities.
Discussions with local stakeholders provided insights into the challenges of building and measuring community resilience locally, as well as the utility and applicability of resilience metrics and measurement tools such as those discussed in Chapter 2. The committee used these site visits to examine how resilience measurement work is advancing in communities and where knowledge gaps, research directions, and/or opportunities for new approaches exist to realize more healthy and resilient communities within the Gulf region and beyond.
It was especially important that the committee visit communities in the Gulf Coast region since it is a primary focus of the Gulf Research Program (GRP). The first visits were to New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Waveland and Gulfport, Mississippi, where committee members met with about 90 local stakeholders. These meetings provided perspectives from local government, the state (Louisiana), nongovernmental organizations (New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Gulfport), and academia (Dillard University, Louisiana State University, Loyola
1 “The 100 Resilient Cities initiative works with cities to build resilience to the physical, social, and economic challenges of the 21st century.” For more information: https://www.100resilientcities.org.
|Baton Rouge, LA||Hurricane Katrina (2005); Hurricane Gustav (2008); Louisiana flood (2016)|
|Gulfport, MS||Hurricane Katrina (2005); Deepwater Horizon oil spill (2010)|
|Minot, ND||Train derailment (2002), flood (2011)|
|New Orleans, LA||Hurricane Katrina (2005); Hurricane Gustav (2008); Deepwater Horizon oil spill (2010); tornado (2017)|
|New York, NY||September 11 World Trade Center attacks (2001); Hurricane Sandy (2012)|
|Pine Ridge Reservation, SD||High winds (2015); tornado (2016); tornado and hail (2017)|
|Rapid City, SD||Black Hills flood (1972); Winter Storm Atlas (2013); ice storm (2014)|
|Waveland, MS||Hurricane Katrina (2005); Deepwater Horizon oil spill (2010)|
University, Tulane University, Xavier University). The committee also met with local government staff involved in the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities initiative in New Orleans. Site visits to the Gulf Coast region highlighted experiences with large-scale loss of life and property (New Orleans, Waveland) and the implications for port operations and major infrastructure (New Orleans). Furthermore, these visits showed contrasts between smaller towns and cities in Mississippi and large urban areas in Louisiana.
The committee also visited New York City, a city with a high concentration of resilience funders and academic leaders, and met with about 40 local stakeholders, including organizations that fund and lead large-scale resilience programs (e.g., the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities initiative, Rebuild by Design); staff from seven city agencies; senior leadership from the Port Authority of New York/New Jersey; and representatives from the financial and insurance industries. The committee also met with academic leaders with innovative approaches for measuring resilience.
Finally, the committee chose to investigate smaller and more rural communities to gauge the effect of size on resilience measurement, meeting with stakeholders in Minot, North Dakota, and Rapid City and Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota.
In each community, the committee held multiple meetings to converse with specific groups of stakeholders (e.g., from local government, the private sector, nonprofit organizations, research community, public health). Because of the diversity among the communities and stakeholders, the committee developed a set of broad, open-ended questions. The community meetings were designed to elicit responses from stakeholders about resilience measurement and allow the committee to adjust the questions asked and topics explored depending on the
experiences of people in a given place. The committee took extensive notes during each meeting and discussed commonalities among the sets of notes in closed sessions. Ultimately, those discussions yielded four overarching themes about community resilience and measurement.
The stakeholder meetings in each town or city were open to the public (see Appendix B for the agendas of each community visit). The committee employed a common interview protocol and discussed several broad topics with community stakeholders focused around community goals and priorities, measuring resilience, and resilience challenges. Generally, each meeting began with a discussion about the community’s main risks, what it was doing to address those risks, and its goals and priorities. The committee specifically sought to elicit discussion about measuring resilience and as such introduced three broad sets of questions:
- What initiatives are you undertaking to measure your community’s resilience?
- How are you measuring your community’s resilience? What tools are you using?
- What aspects of community resilience are critical to measure, and what are the challenges associated with measuring resilience?
All of the communities the committee met with had experienced a disaster within the lifetime of the meeting participants. These stakeholders therefore understood the importance of preparing for future events and discussed mitigation efforts against future disasters. Some did not use the term “resilience” in reference to their preparation and mitigation activities, but resilience thinking and approaches were evident in their efforts to reduce or adapt to known hazards and risks; recognize and address acute and chronic shocks and stressors; increase individual preparedness; and/or strengthen their community through community engagement and partnerships.
During the site visits, the communities discussed their resilience goals, challenges, and needs. Several communities had initiated formal resilience programs and projects; however, they were not measuring the progress of those efforts. None had formal resilience measurement programs in place, and most had not used any of the resilience measurement frameworks or tools discussed in Chapter 2 because they did not know about these tools, how to start the process, or which measurement tools to use. Finding 3.1. Despite the range of available resilience measurement frameworks and tools, many communities are not measuring their resilience.
The communities differed with respect to their challenges, goals and priorities, risk profiles and hazards, where they focus their resilience-building efforts, and how they implement resilience activities. The range of needs, priorities, and
capacities across these eight communities was broad. Finding 3.2. There is not a one-size-fits-all approach to resilience practice and measurement given the diversity of communities. Even if these eight communities were actively measuring their resilience, the differences among them were too broad for a single resilience measurement approach to work for all eight.
Though many communities are not formally measuring their resilience, a variety of entities in and operating on behalf of communities track certain aspects of their resilience often related to wellbeing and quality of life. For example, the Data Center, an independent organization that combines multiple sources of data to help decision makers make informed decisions, monitors a set of indicators to track a variety of community priorities in southeastern Louisiana such as disaster recovery, economic prosperity, and workforce development. A recent Data Center report, The New Orleans Index at Ten: Measuring Greater New Orleans’Progress toward Prosperity (Plyer, Shrinath, and Mack, 2015), looked at more than 30 indicators to examine New Orleans’ progress toward prosperity and resilience in terms of the economy, inclusion, quality of life, and sustainability since Hurricane Katrina (Plyer, Shrinath, and Mack, 2015). Similarly, the Black Hills Knowledge Network’s South Dakota Dashboard provides trend data in the form of charts, graphs, and maps that track community indicators such as civic engagement, demographics, the economy, health, housing, workforce, and income that communities can use for strategic planning and policy making.2 Information from these types of efforts could inform community resilience decision making and programs.
In addition to tracking community indicators, communities are increasingly required to monitor change across various dimensions of urban systems. This often entails developing plans, tracking progress, and adjusting strategies to achieve goals, all of which can influence resilience. In fact, increasingly, federal agencies are requiring communities and regions to adopt certain plans to be eligible for federal funds: The Department of Transportation requires transportation plans (FTA, n.d.), the Department of Housing and Urban Development requires consolidated plans for affordable housing (HUD Exchange, n.d.), and the Environmental Protection Agency requires stormwater management plans (NPDES, n.d.). For example, FEMA requires communities to develop mitigation plans to be eligible for pre- and post-disaster funding under the Disaster Mitigation Act; a key requirement of these mitigation plans is to monitor and track plan performance. States often require local comprehensive plans, and some states (e.g., California and North Carolina) require that these comprehensive plans incorporate hazard mitigation elements. To be eligible for funding, communities must regularly update these plans, monitor performance, and show progress in achieving goals (Berke et al., 2018).
Challenges in Measuring Community Resilience
Community stakeholders shared that they are collecting data and tracking a variety of community indicators to support community operations and oversight of governmental activities. Some of these data and information may be useful in examining resilience building, but often do not assist in measuring progress in achieving resilience over time. Infrastructure-related activities typically receive the most attention and examination because data related to such efforts provide lifeline information for communities. Less likely to be found among the efforts being tracked are measures that relate to a community’s ability to respond to and recover from disasters and other disruptions.
The communities discussed a few challenges related to measuring resilience: (1) taking into account all shocks and stressors, acute as well as chronic, (2) issues around data, and (3) scalability. Community stakeholders expressed a need for resilience measures that consider acute and chronic shocks and stressors. For example, one public sector official articulated that strategies to strengthen the science of measuring community resilience should cross disciplinary and jurisdictional boundaries to address common hazards as well as acute and chronic stressors associated with disasters and disparities; current measurement tools do not align easily with this.
Several communities discussed challenges associated with data. Among the various organizations in a community, there are a multitude of data types and data sources, different platforms, and different systems. This diversity of data and systems can make it difficult for communities to undertake resilience planning and measurement that extend beyond a single organization, sector, or municipality. For example, data collection efforts within and across counties lack coordination among jurisdictions, and data are under-utilized by local decision makers. Finding 3.3. Community organizations often have their own data sources, systems, tools, and platforms that are not compatible with those of other organizations, making it difficult to integrate measurement activities across sectors.
Another challenge revolved around data availability: quality and quantity of data, update cycles of data, and spatial reference of the data (e.g., parcel, block, neighborhood). For example, census data are readily available at the tract level or block level in cities but are either not available at a finer scale for communities with smaller populations or are accompanied by estimation uncertainties.
Through discussions with community stakeholders, four common themes emerged across the communities about community resilience-building and challenges: (1) community engagement and buy-in are important, (2) community resilience has multiple dimensions, (3) decision makers need to be able to justify resilience investments, and (4) resilience should provide multiple benefits. The
committee recognizes that these common themes were identified from a small sample of eight communities; still, these themes align with the experiences of other communities in which the committee members have worked or conducted research and those described in the literature (see Chapter 2).
Community Engagement and Buy-in Are Important
A common theme across the communities visited was the importance of community engagement and buy-in, as well as buy-in from leadership within local government. Community engagement is important for building relationships and trust between community leaders and members, coming to an agreement on a shared vision and goals, and successfully implementing actions to achieve those goals (De Weger et al., 2018; Martiskainen, 2017; Pigg, 1999; Ricketts, 2009; Ricketts and Place, 2009). Community engagement can include a variety of elements such as networks, multistakeholder partnerships, leadership, and communication. In communities that have made progress on their resilience strategies, community stakeholders and members understand and agree on their common risks, goals, and priorities within the context of different community capitals (e.g., natural, built, financial, human, social, and political). Finding 3.4. Community engagement and buy-in are critical to community resilience.
Local governments are reaching out more to engage their community members. However, community engagement is a two-way communication process: Local government needs to demonstrate that it uses the feedback to inform or change its actions. Though it can be difficult for a community to change its standard community engagement process and broaden it to include other stakeholders, participation and feedback from diverse stakeholders and community members is essential to make resilience a priority and to determine the risks and goals of the entire community (De Weger et al., 2018; Jennings, 2009; Talò, 2018; Wells et al., 2013).
For resilience activities or efforts to succeed, community stakeholders stressed that all stakeholders involved in resilience-building initiatives need to recognize the risks the community faces and jointly identify and develop actions to mitigate those risks. Communication outreach programs about resilience can be built into broader community engagement efforts. For example, in preparation of its proposal for HUD’s Community Development Block Grant-National Disaster Resilience competition, Minot’s local government held 60 public meetings with diverse community members. The city won a $74 million HUD grant in 2016 and has strong community support for the city’s resilience efforts. Community stakeholders noted that their programs to assist residents in learning about resilience and its challenges are more likely to succeed than programs in communities that only have a few people familiar with the concept. In some cases, communities understand their risks and choose to accept those risks rather than take
action to manage them. For example, local government may decide to roll back requirements to mitigate against specific risks or hazards if it is too expensive or negatively impacts community functions (e.g., people or businesses may decide to move out of a community if certain regulations are imposed).
Stakeholders across the communities emphasized the importance of building multistakeholder relationships and trusted networks. Nonprofit organizations shared approaches for creating and forming strong partnerships and leveraging each other’s resources to help clients in need. For example, the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank partners with more than 115 agencies, and these partnerships are an essential part of its food dissemination activities.3 In Cedar Rapids, the Linn Area Partners Active in Disasters is a coalition of over 45 organizations that work together to address disaster recovery needs through information sharing, advocacy for those who are most vulnerable, and simplifying access to services (LAP-AID, n.d.).
Figuring out how to get leadership engaged is an important part of community engagement, as well as a challenge for many of the communities. Similarly, the loss of a leader who played a strong role in resilience practice can encumber resilience plans and projects, even after a successor takes over. Community champions, when present, can provide vital support for resilience efforts and keep the community moving forward. When these individuals are trusted by the community, local governments can partner with them to help prioritize resilience goals and put resilience efforts into action.
Two of the communities visited, New Orleans and New York City, are members of the Rockefeller 100 Resilient Cities initiative and have resilience leaders called chief resilience officers—people charged with developing a city’s resilience strategy. One year after New Orleans published its resilience strategy, more than 75 percent of the actions outlined in the strategy were completed or under way (City of New Orleans, 2016). In 2016, New Orleans received $141 million as part of the National Disaster Resilience Competition funded by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The New Orleans proposal, “Reshaping the Urban Delta,” called for the creation of a comprehensive resilience district in Gentilly with projects that invest in innovative and creative solutions so that the people, culture, and infrastructure can thrive (City of New Orleans, n.d.).
Three years after New York published its resilience strategy, the city has made significant strides toward its resilience goals, seeing an increase in affordable housing, a decrease in unemployment, divestment of pension funds from fossil fuel companies, and the launching of a heat mitigation and adaptation program (City of New York, 2018). In both New Orleans and New York, the efforts of the chief resilience officer in developing a resilience strategy helped provide a roadmap for moving resilience forward in the communities.
The Multiple Dimensions of Community Resilience
Disaster recovery and infrastructure are often stimuli for resilience discussions, but communities shared that they view community resilience across multiple dimensions of the community (e.g., physical, natural, social, human, financial, and political) and a broad range of approaches (e.g., sustainability, strategic planning, disaster management, public health, and adaptation). Community resilience also cuts across chronic and acute shocks and stressors, and across multiple scales (neighborhood, city, county, etc.). Finding 3.5. Resilience is multidimensional.
Many community stakeholders highlighted the importance of addressing not only their risks to specific disasters such as hurricanes, wildfires, and floods, but also addressing existing community stressors. Communities noted how chronic stressors, such as poverty and crime, affect the building and maintenance of a resilient community. Building community resilience can be very difficult for people who are dealing with day-to-day stresses (e.g., drugs, violence, homelessness). Community stakeholders found it challenging to identify how to measure some indicators of vulnerability (e.g., inequality, access to services, equity) of at-risk populations.
Communities shared that resilience-building cuts across multiple scales and they recognize that local resilience is tied to regional resilience; planning at the regional level is important. The resilience of outside entities (e.g., other communities, county, region, state) can substantially impact local resilience. In Louisiana, the LASAFE initiative was designed around both acute and chronic stressors and is an example of a cross-sectoral approach and model of how to advance the practice of community resilience (NOPR, 2018). A combination of nonprofit, government, and private partners with decision-making authority lead the program in order to achieve a vision of a more vibrant and resilient future. It uses a cross-sectoral planning process and community engagement to address a wide array of local resilience challenges in parishes across the state. Specifically, it identifies community assets that can be used to more effectively adapt coastal communities to a new future and provides funding for 10 projects that are tackling flooding and land loss in six high-risk coastal parishes.
Need for Decision Makers to Justify Resilience Investments
Decision makers make difficult funding choices among competing priorities. Local governments with limited funding are under pressure to prioritize only a subset of the actions necessary for broad community resilience, for example, short-term, day-to-day community priorities such as inadequate infrastructure or those associated with community stressors such as crime and poverty. The inability to judge the return on investment or the benefits associated with resilience projects makes it difficult to justify investing more comprehensively in resilience. Finding 3.6. Decision makers struggle to determine where resilience investments should be made and what benefits to expect from those investments.
In addition, community leaders who operate at the forefront of resilience lack operational metrics and management tools to document, monitor, and track the short- and long-term direct benefits—let alone indirect or intangible benefits—emanating from complex, multidimensional resilience endeavors. If communities are not using specific tools or frameworks to measure their resilience, it is difficult for them to justify decisions to fund resilience projects, to show project impacts, or to demonstrate the benefits of their resilience projects. As a result, communities do not feel fully informed to invest in resilience and/or use resilience metrics.
Resilience Should Provide Multiple Benefits
Communities expressed that their staff and resources are often overextended, resulting in resilience-building activities taking a backseat to addressing day-today issues. Many agencies and organizations already have too many line items to deal with in their budgets. In order for communities to undertake resilience activities, these activities need to be “baked into” already existing programs and processes, affiliated with existing budgets and authorities, and aligned with other community initiatives. For example, communities could integrate resilience into current planning efforts (e.g., emergency management, public works, urban planning, land use planning, hazard mitigation, transportation), neighborhood and public health initiatives, and infrastructure projects. Finding 3.7. Communities are better able to pursue resilience-building efforts when those efforts align with other community initiatives and provide multiple community benefits.
Even though pre-disaster actions are known to be cost-effective (Multihazard Mitigation Council, 2017), community stakeholders recognize that they are investing less in these actions than is needed. Certain resilience activities can be undertaken without significant new investment simply by integrating resilience goals into day-to-day operations (Berke et al., 2015; Gilbert et al., 2015). For example, improving local codes and standards for new construction in order to increase infrastructure resilience could be mainstreamed for any community. In other words, community stakeholders viewed community resilience measurement as a continuous process that should be embedded in day-to-day practice rather than a one-time assessment in the aftermath of a disaster. Community stakeholders seek tools that assess the impact of resilience work and track resilience investments in order to show that the investments are working.
Multiple benefits were commonly discussed within the context of mitigation investments and the activities of grassroots neighborhood organizations. For example, in Cedar Rapids, the McGrath Amphitheatre, located on the Cedar River, serves as a community gathering space for outdoor concerts and events and was built as part of the city’s flood protection system, as it is used as floodwater storage during inundation events (City of Cedar Rapids, n.d.).
There are many frameworks and tools available to communities that purport to measure community resilience, though none of these is a silver bullet for resilience measurement (Chapter 2). Yet many communities lack the resources (e.g., time, staff, funds) to implement resilience measurement and do not devote resources to explicitly measure resilience. In fact, all the resilience measurement efforts discussed in this report were underwritten and/or implemented in communities by outside entities (e.g., 100 Resilient Cities, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Resilient America Program), suggesting that many communities need a catalyst to help them with resilience building and measurement. The Gulf Research Program has an opportunity to be this catalyst in the Gulf region, and Chapter 5 provides a framework to support the GRP’s efforts to accomplish this.