CIVIL ENGINEERING 365 ALL ABOUT CIVIL ENGINEERING



IntroductionThis narrative policy analysis shows how applying different resilience definitions can result in different resolutions. The author uses a fictional account to explore how, in the search for resilience, a community devises a new trajectory while recovering from storm damage. The story is based on a collage of actual experiences but does not refer to any particular person or community. The account applies three different resilience metaphors and bodies of research to a problem demonstrating which application hinders long-term recovery and which offers support.The Story: Cassandra’s Presentation at a Regional ConferenceI am Cassandra, the Planning Director for Troy Beach. Many of you here at the conference know us. We are a small beachfront community that has had three disastrous hurricane-related floods since I started working for the city. The first storm made landfall the year I arrived, over 20 years ago, and the second some 5 years later. Neighborhoods that had been rebuilt to better standards after the last event were destroyed. Stores closed. Our water system was not functioning, wastewater was polluting our shore, and longtime residents were moving away. I knew that this time, recovery had to be different, but where to start?Our city council’s knee-jerk reaction was to rebuild as quickly as possible. The council planned to revise our building codes again, as we had done before, to implement a host of new flood damage reduction measures recommended in our hazard mitigation plan (HMP) and included within our revised comprehensive plan policies. What could go wrong?We ultimately created a new vision, a new direction for the city. Our strategy included merging hazards-oriented risk analyses within comprehensive planning design processes and applying the standard mitigation approaches of retreat, accommodate, and protect. The approach is enabling our beach to reclaim itself, our commercial center to relocate to higher ground, and our historic district to be protected, at least to the extent practical, and it has incentivized residents to rebuild and retrofit their homes where appropriate and relocate where not. Although these solutions may seem straightforward, the process was anything but, and our past planning documents often proved to be more of a barrier than an asset.But I am getting ahead of myself. How we got to this place is the more interesting story.While responding to the third storm, I realized that the higher standards we adopted before did not work. Similar damages to those from previous storms were being reported for repaired structures, despite our having adopted higher codes. I had supported this recovery approach after the last two events and was even rewarded by the council with my promotion to director. The FEMA National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) kept paying claims, FEMA’s Public Assistance program kept helping rebuild damaged infrastructure, and I could spend FEMA funds faster and get our public services up and running quicker than any other municipal official in the county. We were considered a success story by the State Office of Emergency Management, and I was proud of my contribution. I had demonstrated my technical competence, but something had to change. I was about to fail—again.Resilience Emerges as a DriverThe local press was already pointing to our ineffectiveness. In their Sunday edition following the event, they ran a story describing a property that had been damaged after each of these past storms. They printed before and after pictures of the same house. The house even looked better and safer after each event.However, this time the press had latched onto the concept of resilience, and even while the storm was progressing, reporters were asking whether or not our community was able to bounce back and bounce forward to reorganize. But what did resilience really mean? How could I make the concept of resilience actionable?The situation was different now, or at least I was different. For one thing, I had had it with leading a recovery effort that would only result in repetition down the road. I was determined to handle recovery differently—to increase our resilience, whatever that meant.Hazard Mitigation and Comprehensive Plans as Guidance—Bouncing Back, Bouncing ForwardMy first thought, when reviewing the preliminary damage reports, was to see if our hazard mitigation plan could be a recovery driver as it had been after previous events. Maybe it could help with resilience and provide a safe, well-documented path to recovery. It had provided direction after previous hurricanes. And implementing the plan’s mitigation recommendations had enabled us to increase our rating within the Community Rating System (CRS). Our community had just completed its third hazard mitigation plan. The plan had not incorporated sea level rise (SLR), associated increases in storm magnitudes, or other impacts resulting from a changing climate, but it was well-received by the state and FEMA. The plan’s risk assessment was driven by HAZUS, a software program touted by FEMA. HAZUS, in using our legal Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM), layered atop of existing inventories, provided an extensive list of vulnerabilities to existing built capital.Yet, the damage assessments from the current event confirmed our worst fears. Homes were not built high enough and levees not strong enough, and even the vacant properties created, when we had purchased severely damaged structures, helped redirect wave energy to the homes that had not yet been removed. Waves had run up farther than during past events, and erosion had rendered the stronger structures into islands. If our mitigation plan was not helpful, there was our comprehensive plan. Could this plan provide direction?Our comprehensive plan was completed after the adoption of our latest hazard mitigation plan and had incorporated many of its recommendations. Being a very livable and tourist-friendly beach community, our plan reflected our desire to provide beach-oriented assets to attract more visitors and increase city revenues. The plan called for coastal parks and bike paths linking these new beachfront higher density developments. Homeowners who were not able to afford the associated increases in taxes and higher code requirements were selling to developers. This had also happened after the last hurricane, as with the one before that. Would not these new developments help achieve our community vision, be safer, and generate more revenue for the city?Assessments revealed that the shoreline had substantially retreated, and several of those new higher density developments were now islands. Others were totally destroyed. This was the exact opposite of what we thought would happen. Advancing our comprehensive plan’s community vision was proving to be much more costly than if we had done nothing.Ka-boom—it hit me. Well, maybe it was not an epiphany but certainly sudden clarity. Our mitigation plans were encouraging us to bounce back to what was and our comprehensive plan to what will never be. We needed to set both aside and revision our postevent and climate-influenced future.Reorganizing and Exploring a New Trajectory—Resilience by ReorganizingWe needed a new approach—a new trajectory for our community. We had to reorganize, explore, and create a new vision. We thought that being a well-connected, well-organized community with intertwining reinforcing relationships and an agreed-to community vision would be our strength. But it proved to be more of collective liability. We clearly were on the wrong path.After we had addressed our immediate response needs and recognized the shortcoming of our past planning, the council was open to exploring a new direction. Our university’s climate scientists were invited to be part of our team, and they helped us realize and define our emerging risks. We also made sure that mitigation and comprehensive planning were undertaken as one design process. FEMA helped with their risk map process. Once the council accepted the science and the need for a more unified approach, the discussion moved forward.A new vision slowly and painfully emerged—one that recognized the increasing threats to our built community, as well as our aspirations. The council created a recovery task force to create a new vision. This taskforce reflected our diverse community and included our most prominent movers and shakers. The press helped this quest not only by highlighting the home I had mentioned but by extensively reporting on the task force’s progress. All seemed to feel part of the process.Over many months, the task force and council debated, compromised, and followed true and false leads, and slowly, a new trajectory for the city emerged. This new direction adhered to the broader comprehensive plan’s vetted goals and recognized the importance of assuring a livable beach-oriented community. We were able to exploit opportunities resulting from storm-related damages, as well as reduced vulnerabilities documented in the HMP. FEMA, their Stafford Act and the Public Assistance Programs, Section 428, if you are interested, allowed us to replace damaged eligible facilities with improved and alternative projects.Most damaged homes and business owners had flood and wind insurance. I had devoted a lot of time to this effort, and I believe it helped our residents feel less desperate, and probably more importantly, it reinforced their trust with the government. Residents felt safe proposing alternatives, without a need to defend past positions. The council was even able to enact a temporary moratorium on rebuilding to allow for revisioning to occur. This took a lot of pressure off me, and I was able, with the support of the council, to assure the community that the moratorium would be short-lived and not unduly restrictive—that we could and would ensure that needed community services were available.As I said, our resulting recovery strategy was not particularly earthshattering. Our older vision emphasized beachfront development with supporting uses set back from the shore. Our new trajectory created one community, centered around a new, safer business district on higher ground, connected to the beach through a system of trails, public right-of-ways, and public transit opportunities. Our historic natural shoreline will be allowed to self-restore as seas rise, storms arrive, and beaches erode. Built capital will retreat accordingly. Owners will be allowed to occupy these emerging vulnerable lands where the structures reflect the shore building sites’ temporal life. Of particular importance was the historic district. The council decided to protect the district to the extent possible and for as long as possible.We purchased the fee-simple interests in homes where threats were beyond the risk tolerances established by the city, and we use other forms of purchase, such as life estates, to buy interests where the risk of coastal erosion or damaging flood heights or velocities were deemed tolerable. Up until this last event, most of our flood risk reduction approaches had been rooted in the NFIP and were directed at the lot and building scale. However, achieving our revised trajectory made extensive use of a wide range of community-based tools. Development rights were purchased and transferred or sold to incentivize and direct development to higher ground. We purchased liens and easements and leased right back to development interests, again where risk tolerances are acceptable. This had the effect of institutionalizing a package of tools intended to create a phased retreat to higher ground. And we received even more Community Rating System points.Our task force was disbanded, but before doing so, the council created an Office of Community Resilience located within the Mayor’s Office, recognizing that that resilience is not a terminal state but a continuous process the city needed when confronting change.In conclusion, I feel that we have set in process the ability of our community to evolve as our risks change and our community aspirations evolve. We are transforming our community while remembering and recognizing our strong connection with our shore. But please recognize that changing course was not easy. Mistakes were made, and there were many revolts and false starts, but we created a new trajectory that set in place a self-correcting and sustainable process and for years to come—a trajectory that exploits each future event as an opportunity and a tipping point to achieve a more resilient future.I, Cassandra, was heard and followed, and it felt good. Troy Beach is preserving their sense of place while making themselves well-positioned to reorganize as needed and address whatever changes the future will bring.



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