Extreme weather events like Hurricane Ian are intensifying, reminding communities that climate change needs to be considered when thinking about protecting a community’s physical safety and economic drivers. Whether it be increasingly intense heat waves or erosion-induced land loss from rising sea levels, weather events effect communities in a variety of ways. Each community is unique in understanding and responding to climate-related risks, however it’s important for them to develop a robust long-term plan that ensures the safety and viability of their community today and into the future. These plans further serve as a vehicle to purse grant opportunities, as well as a valuable communication and strategic resource. If a weather event does occur, strategies will have already been identified for implementation to reduce future risks that can be integrated into rebuilding in harm’s way.
Why Plan Now?
Planning now for weather-related risks is crucial to preserve local communities. Plans like zoning, grid hardening and recovery strategies are actions that take a long time for communities to develop. Getting ahead of the process as early as possible leads to realized benefits from mobilizing identified solutions, as well as test strategies through evaluating performance over time. This allows for recalibrating strategies if performance shows strategies are not reducing the risk. It’s important to ask questions like: Does our community want to plan just for the next 20-30 years? What does our community value? Getting this understanding for what you want in the onset is very helpful in analysis and planning.
Best Practices for Resiliency Planning
From TRC’s experience supporting communities nationwide, we’ve found it’s critical to start the planning process with an evaluation. Using environmental and climate model data analysis to determine a community’s biggest climate-related risks associated with extreme events and chronic conditions is crucial to determine short- and long-term solutions. Modeling typically depends on the kind of climate-related hazards that communities have to worry about most, with the top ones often being heat events, heavy precipitation events and flooding, along with sea level rise and storm surge for coastal areas. This data can evaluate how exposures to climate threats are projected to change over time. Also tied into this assessment is environmental justice and equity issues – researching how weather events disproportionately impact vulnerable populations will help inform what steps should be taken to address climate change in a local community.
Along with this analysis, it’s important to determine what sectors (energy, transportation, communication, agriculture, buildings, natural resources, etc.) are going to be affected and should be included in your resiliency plan, and which community departments and community stakeholders are critical for collaboration. At the end of this evaluation phase, you’ll have an understanding of what within your community is at the greatest risk. Once this is understood, it’s helpful to produce a document detailing the findings so that members of the community can be part of the informed discussion on what their community needs. This generally leads to a list of prioritized risks.
After the evaluation is completed, it’s time to lay out steps to address the risks and to clearly define the recommended short- and long-term actions to the community stakeholders and how they factor in reducing risks. This helps the community better understand the need for changes along with responsibilities associated with these actions. For each proposed action, provide different criteria to evaluate the options, including cost of implementation, effectiveness and co-benefits. These steps will often include education and awareness, not only under the guise of climate change, but also for ensuring your community understands the appropriate responses to weather emergencies.
Working with the Community
It’s important to always tailor a plan to the community’s specific vision. A community that values its natural resources, for example, will likely have different resiliency solutions from one that values a strong industrial economy. You should be consistently keeping in touch with the stakeholders to ensure the plan meets the community needs. This is also the step to begin identifying where funding and grant opportunities may be possible. Whether it be through federal grants, state programs, private funding, or funding projects through local taxes, communities can use a variety of resources to support their plan.
TRC is unique in our approach to climate resiliency. When we work with communities to create a plan, we don’t employ a cookie cutter template – we work with our initial framework and adjust as we go, tailoring the plan to what community values. Being selective with our projects and not overloading our team allows us to fully listen to and engage with the stakeholders to address the community’s needs. In addition, we do climate model data analysis in-house so we can do our own processing tailored to the specific risks we’re evaluating, as well as an internal climate resilience academy to educate our employees on how to best work with a community to create a resiliency plan. TRC works directly in critical sectors such as power and infrastructure, giving us concrete knowledge and experience to help our clients come up with the right climate resilience plan for them.