Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Resilient America Roundtable

by Susan Kieffer
Susan Kieffer

(Walgreen and CAS Professor Emerita of Geology and Physics
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; IAPG Vice-President; email: s1kieffer@gmail.com)

The U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine has a Roundtable called "Resilient America," which brings together experts to organize and facilitate activities to help American communities build resilience to extreme natural hazards. Resilience is the capability of preparing for, enduring, and recovering from adverse events. Four goals of the Resilient America Roundtable are to (1) manage and communicate risk; (2) measure resilience; (3) share data and information within and between communities; and (4) build community partnerships and coalitions. 

The Roundtable activities, such as meetings and workshops, are designed to help decision makers in the communities decide how and where to invest resources to increase their resilience, and to explain and defend the investment choices. Some of the partners in the effort are the Department of Homeland Security Science & Technology Directorate, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Z Zurich Foundation, the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation, and the Koshland Science Museum. The thirty-three Roundtable members come from a wide variety of organizations, including universities, private foundations and companies, FEMA, community managers and elected officials, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the American Red Cross.

One of the Roundtable’s efforts is helping communities develop ways to measure their resilience and measure progress toward becoming more resilient by helping them answer these hard questions:

  • How resilient is your community?
  • How would you go about determining how resilient you are or how resilient you should be?  
  • And how do you measure progress towards becoming resilient?

Two Roundtable activities affect all communities (so-called "cross-cutting issues"): the role of insurance in building resilience, and improving the resilience of the national power supply system. Another activity looks at the interdependencies among different supply chains (e.g., food, water, medical goods, fuel, trucking, telecommunications and electrical power), and how these supply chains can be made more resilient.

Three communities have been selected for pilot projects. On the east coast, Charleston, South Carolina, was selected because of its exposure to earthquakes, hurricanes, sea level rise and floods. Charleston is particularly concerned about its nuisance flooding problem which regularly impacts business operations and transportation routes. Just this October, a combination of heavy rain, high tides and storm surge heavily impacted the community and other regions of South Carolina. In the middle of the U.S., Cedar Rapids in Linn County, Iowa, was selected for its exposure to thunderstorms, river floods, tornadoes, and severe winter storms among others. It was the site of catastrophic floods in 2008, from which it has made significant progress toward recovery. Cedar Rapids continues to nurture the strong ties that were forged among different community groups and organizations in the wake of the 2008 flood and is working to build resilience among its more vulnerable populations. On the west coast, Seattle, Washington, was selected for its exposure to both deep and shallow earthquakes, winter storms, landslides, tsunamis and volcanic hazards among others. Seattle has serious transportation issues even in normal times because of its location between the waters of Puget Sound and the Cascade mountain range. There are only two major north-south freeway corridors, both of which could be closed during a major hazard event, blocking delivery of rescue goods and services.

Resilient America website
Geoethical issues in these areas range from philosophical to practical. How do we balance altering the natural environment to increase our human resilience with preserving that environment for other species? What if increasing the resilience of one group of humans decreases it for another group, e.g., constructing dams or otherwise altering the natural flows of water? How do we rectify past actions that have disproportionately relegated the less affluent and most underrepresented in our societies to more vulnerable areas? How can we increase the resilience of these groups within the context of their larger communities? How do we balance improving resilience to short-term hazards in the face of long-term changes, e.g., improving resilience to flooding hazards now when the people in these places will may completely inundated by climate change and rising sea levels?

More about the Roundtable can be found at:

Image at the top 
Oso landslide, by Mark Reid U.S. Geological Survey: