"Lessons from Sandy: Building with Resilience in Mind" by New York Times blogger, ANDREW C. REVKIN . Terrific review of what is being written, read and discussed in the aftermath of the storm.
“Hurricane Sandy’s Real Lesson…will we learn it?” a post by William H. Hooke, a senior policy fellow at the American Meteorological Society
"Gotham Gets It: Mayor Bloomberg Calls for Government Action on Climate Change" by Robert Verchick. Great discussion of New York's response, and the catalytic potential of disasters' and extraordinary events.
“Living Resiliently on a Crowding, Turbulent Planet.”, earlier work by Revkin with renewed relevance
"Toward a world of larger disasters? Ideas for risk-management policies " - A fascinating analysis by Stéphane Hallegatte, an economist and lead climate change specialist at the World Bank, discussing why we so often build directly in harm’s way. From April 2012, revisited in light of this week's events
“Federal Actions for a Climate Resilient Nation,” a 2011 White House report from Erik Schlenker-Goodrich, the executive director of the Western Environmental Law Center.
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This appeal popped in to my inbox this morning - from the New Amsterdam Market, a phenomenal locavore market that has taken over the South Street Seaport on the southeast side of Manhattan.
As many of you know, Monday's storm devastated many homes and small businesses in our South Street neighborhood...The flooding destroyed all of the Seaport's shop interiors, including the chain stores on Fulton Street. The independent shops and restaurants on Front Street, Water Street, and Peck Slip faced similar destruction...
Our main objective now is to help the local independent businesses recover... We will do all we can to help bring small businesses back to the neighborhood."
While I adore the market - and respect the urgency for the business owners and residents who faced painful losses this week, the automatic, near-patriotic zeal fueling calls to arms, to restore and rebuild "just as it was", make me nervous. The themes echo conversations happening at a larger scale about how our families, businesses, cities and government can best respond to events like Sandy which, while unusual, were neither a surprise nor isolated events over the long term.
The links above made me feel cautiously optimistic... All of Manhattan is currently paying the tuition, and the price is steep. Obama committed this morning to supporting recovery and rebuilding. As Robert Vehrick's article noted, circumstances that cause life as we know it to come to a griding halt offer moments to pause, whether we want them or not. The process and resources of rebuilding give us opportunities to be explicit about what we are going to do next, and why.
The risk? That the human urgency of the moment, the rush to return comfort and safety to the many who desperately need it, overwhelms us - that we miss the opportunities to step back and learn, thus inadvertently exposing ourselves to the same exact risks and vulnerabilities the next time this happens.
In the best case scenario, we can individually and collectively balance efforts to provide resources and help, while carving out time-limited opportunities for learning, reflection, and adjustment in strategy. Here's hoping we can strike this delicate balance.
Read on below for the full text of this week's post from Andrew Revkin
By ANDREW C. REVKIN
Updates at bottom |
Following up on my post examining whether we’re stuck with “blah, blah, blah, bang” disaster planning, here’s a discussion of ways to plan and build with the worst in mind.
First, I hope you’ll read “Hurricane Sandy’s Real Lesson…will we learn it?” — a post by William H. Hooke, a senior policy fellow at the American Meteorological Society who’s made the transition to online communicationwith more facility than some people half his age. (His Twitter feed is at @AMSpolicy; I found the post via Judith Curry.)
Here’s an excerpt:
The need for emergency response will never go away. But we shouldn’t resign ourselves to the idea that emergencies will necessarily continue to grow in scope, number and impact, just because our society is growing in numbers, in property exposure, and in economic activity. We can grow our society’s resilience to such events. We can reduce the geographical extent and the population adversely affected by future events.
We actually have a shining example, one we can build on:
Commercial aviation. I’ve blogged on this before. Over the past fifty years, property loss to natural hazards has been growing exponentially. Experts (e.g., Roger Pielke, Jr. and his collaborators) have shown this to be the result of growing population and property exposure in hazardous areas. [See, for example, this link, or posts sprinkled among the entries in his blog, and the references therein.]
But it’s also the result of a failure to learn from experience; an insistence on “rebuilding as before.” By contrast, commercial air travel as measured by takeoffs and landings has quadrupled over the same half-century, but the number of flight-related accidents has remained constant over that period or even declined. That’s because of a remarkable public-private partnership on the part of the airlines and the FAA, and because of the catalytic role played by a small but vital independent federal agency, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). The NTSB mantra is not “the wing fell off this airplane, but we’re going to rebuild it as before”, but rather “What called this accident? We have to make sure it never happens again.”
We need an analog to the NTSB for natural hazards. Each catastrophe should trigger a national conversation, not just at the federal but also state and local levels along the lines of “what can our community here learn from what happened (over there)?” And that conversation should lead to a set of mutually-supportive private- and public-sector actions to build resilience at the community level and reduce future risk.
So that’s one step we can take. Here’s a second one.
Today we routinely file environmental impact statements detailing the implications for the environment of this or that undertaking (a new strip mine, an agricultural start-up, another airport, a landfill…you can supply any one of thousands of examples). We should similarly file statements indicating the impact of real estate development; the construction of buildings, dams, and levees; and other major projects – on the increased vulnerability to hazards they will impose on others. In this politically polarized climate, this will seem to many like another unwanted federal “taking,” but why should my freedom extend to building a levee to protect my property that will increase the risk to your property downstream on that same river? Shouldn’t I have to consult you? The requirement for Environmental Impact Statements prompted numerous complaints at the time, but today, we’ve internalized the process. It’s an accepted part of doing business. And it’s the right thing to do. That’s the similar intent of the No-Adverse-Impact policy advice of the Association of State Floodplain Managers.
A third step? Let’s get the public- and private-sectors to the table to talk strategically about how they can continue to work together to reduce disaster losses in this country. Many companies these days have business continuity plans. They know what they have to do to keep their doors open in the face of disasters. And they take those actions as best they can. But the companies can’t execute those plans if as result of the disaster their employees lose homes and either can’t make it to work or are preoccupied with domestic problems. And those open stores won’t do any business if their customers’ communities have been disrupted. Companies need a forum for partnering with local-, state-, and national government to reduce community vulnerability. [Time was, we had such a forum, under the name of Project Impact, a FEMA program dating back to the Clinton years, which was ended in the first year of the Bush Administration. We should bring back this program, or something like it.]
Insurance companies might provide a useful starting point. It’s likely that Sandy’s impact along all that built-up shoreline will once again highlight opportunities for improving the National Flood Insurance Program. The insurance companies, DoC and DHS, and the publics they all serve have skin in the game. Such discussions are needed at the federal, state and local levels. The Department of Commerce could provide a natural venue to start such a dialogue. [The rest is here.]
Some of these themes were explored earlier this year when Pace University hosted a Summit on Resilience, with a particular focus on the roles of the public and private sectors in recovery from disasters like Hurricane Sandy. A set of papers is forthcoming, including a short reflection from me (see below), but you can view video of some interesting discussions and talks online, including lectures by the first Secretary of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge, and Margareta Wahlström, the United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction.
My short piece on the themes of the meeting was titled “Living Resiliently on a Crowding, Turbulent Planet.” Here’s a snippet that is particularly relevant:
Human communities will always be in harm’s way even as we improve our technological and societal capacity for withstanding threats — either natural or of our own making. This is partly because history and geography have placed many of our centers of habitation and commerce in zones of implicit hazard. Just two examples are severe and recurring seismic activity in Istanbul and the inevitability of a calamitous storm surge in New York City. The superimposition of allure, utility and danger led geographer Peirce Lewis to call New Orleans an “impossible but inevitable city” ….
A core theme at the meeting was that a boosted capacity to withstand and recover from disasters will not come by establishing some set menu of protocols and responsibilities. Ivan Seidenberg, who as chairman of the board of Verizon Communications Inc. deals continually with managing resilient responses to emergencies, went so far as to challenge, playfully, Albert Einstein’s menu for saving the world. While Einstein said that, if given an hour, he would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and the final minute designing a solution, Seidenberg noted that in a fast-changing world, the rules and stakes – the very nature of the question – are in constant flux. That kind of situation requires a commitment to constant reevaluation, to learning and adjusting, to knowing resilience building is not accomplished from the top down, and is not a task, but a trait.
I’ve posted the final draft on Slideshare.
Jonathan Rose, a friend who is a developer with a focus on equitable, sustainable urban design, sent a relevant note yesterday focused on the tangle of issues facing New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority. It’s worth posting here because it speaks to broader, and timely, opportunities to invest now with urban resilience in mind:
The MTA Blue Ribbon Commission on Sustainability and Climate Change, which I chaired, issued a report in 2009recommending a wide range of actions that the MTA take to prepare itself for the future. Among them, it recommended, “The MTA should develop a climate-adaptation decision matrix to identify options for protecting transit infrastructure from storm surge, extreme heat, and other manifestations of climate change.”
But the sharp recession prevented the MTA from being able to make the capital investments the that system sorely needed. The impact of Hurricane Sandy on the region’s transportation system revealed how essential the MTA’s system is for our economy, and how vulnerable it is to climate change. Sandy underscored our need to invest in the planning and reconstruction of our subways, trains, tunnels and bridges to make them more resilient- but to do so will take money, lots of it. And our cities and states don’t have it.
Since the 1980’s, the national economic debate has focussed on two levers of change- the cost of government expenditures, and revenues to pay for them. But the debate entirely misses a third, critical lever, investment. We need to look at critical infrastructure such our regional mass transit systems not as a cost, but as an investment in our economic future. And like any investment, it will provide a return, not only by supporting a more vibrant economy, but also by broadening the access of lower income families to the region’s prosperity.
As we focus on balancing the federal government’s operating budget, we should also develop a capital budget to fund the upgrading of critical regional systems to meet the challenges of climate change and population growth. With interest rates on the Federal 30-year bonds now below 3 percent, this is an ideal time to borrow for these investments in our nations future.
11:07 A.M. Update Robert R.M. Verchick, the author of “Facing Catastrophe: Environmental Action for a Post-Katrina World,” and Gauthier-St. Martin Chair in Environmental Law at Loyola University in New Orleans, has an excellent post following up on Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s statement on the presidential election, Hurricane Sandy and climate change. Here’s an excerpt:
Is this the beginning of a tipping point? History shows that extreme events have the potential to focus people’s attention and energy in ways previously thought impossible. In the eighteenth century, the Lisbon Earthquake forced a dramatic rethinking across of Europe of the government’s role in hazard management. Portugal’s prime minister launched one of the first scientific inquiries into earthquake mechanics. The government imposed stricter zoning laws and Europe’s first seismic building codes.
Northeast governors whose states are receiving federal assistance after Hurricane Sandy have Herbert Hoover to thank. After the Great Mississippi River Flood of 1927, Hoover, then the Secretary of Commerce, helped establish the national role for disaster recovery in the United States. Less than a decade later, the federal government boosted hazard protection across the nation by taking charge of all flood control projects on allfederal waterways. [Read the rest.]
11:39 A.M. Update Via Twitter, I found and read a fascinating analysis by Stéphane Hallegatte, an economist and lead climate change specialist at the World Bank, pointing to the rational aspects of why we end up building in harm’s way. As he explains:
My analysis is based on a simple model where investments are assumed to be more productive in flood-prone areas, because there are close to coast and rivers, lowering transportation costs, or because of urbanisation, which leads to concentration and development in river flood plains. Economic agents are then assumed to decide rationally on (i) how much to invest in flood protection; (ii) how much to invest in flood-prone (protected) areas; and (iii) how much to invest in safe areas. The main mechanism of the model is really simple: with economic growth, we have more resources to dedicate to disaster protection; but with better protections, disaster probability is reduced, creating an incentive to increase investment in more-productive risky areas. So when a protection fails or is overtopped by an exceptional events, consequences are larger.
As a result, the model predicts that disaster frequency decreases with economic growth, but that consequences are larger when a disaster occurs. The share of capital and population installed in flood-prone area can be increasing with growth, making disaster consequences (when a disaster occurs) grow more rapidly than wealth. With economic development, therefore, we are moving toward a world of fewer but bigger disasters, even relative to the size of the economy.
The post builds on a 2011 World Bank study.
11:48 A.M. Update Again via Twitter, I learned about a 2011 White House report, “Federal Actions for a Climate Resilient Nation,” from Erik Schlenker-Goodrich, the executive director of the Western Environmental Law Center. (More evidence that 140 characters can matter.) The report is more evidence that President Obama gets both sides of the climate challenge.
Finally, the Room for Debate blog solicited varied views on whether storm surge barriers are a feasible investment for New York City (it’s a much more challenging question than it was for London’s Thames River storm barriers). Have a look.
ANDREW C. REVKINDot Earth blogger, The New York Times
Senior Fellow, Pace Acad. for Applied Env. Studies
Cell: 914-441-5556 Fax: 914-989-8009
Twitter: @revkin Skype: Andrew.Revkin