Framework for Building Regional Resilience and Risk Mitigation

Date: 10/16/2019

Author: Charlene Shroulote-DurĂ¡n

          On Thursday, September 26th, Dr. Katya Wowk, a Senior Research Scientist for the Harte Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, and Margaret Adams, MPA from the FEMA Texas Recovery Office visited the Texas A&M main campus to give a talk at the Institute for Sustainable Communities first Distinguished Speaker Series Luncheon for the Fall semester. The presentation was entitled Framework for Building Regional Resilience and Risk Mitigation. 

          Dr. Wowk began by explaining the need for partners in the Coastal bend where they need folks with expertise in areas they are lacking. She explained billions of dollars are being spent on all types of disasters like wildfires, winter storms, flooding, and drought each year with Texas experiencing most, if not all of these types of disasters. With disasters becoming worse and costing more to rebuild, Dr. Wowk asserts the call for resilience building is very real. The presentation shifts to Ms. Adams to discuss the concept of resilience. She admits that the word resilience is a “buzz word that gets thrown around a lot in disaster recovery” but is appropriate and necessary in the conversation. According to the National Academies of Sciences the formal definition of individual, community, and national resilience is the ability to prepare and plan for, absorb, respond, and recover from, and more successfully adapt to adverse events. So, what does this definition mean? According to Ms. Adams another way to think about resilience is how a community is able to bounce back after disaster events, the ability to plan for disaster events and then be prepared when they happen. The presenters emphasize that resilience is a process rather than outcome.

          As part of this process, Dr. Wowk addresses the need for a regional approach to resilience. Here in Texas, as she explains, are nested in large systems of culture, climate, and exchange, and many life- sustaining systems are larger-than-local. Because smaller cities face funding and staffing constraints planning and preparing for disaster events can be challenging. Decision makers at the local levels are realizing the need to coordinate proactive and effective adaptation strategies with neighboring jurisdictions on a larger regional level. These coordinated efforts can create innovative ways to address local issues like housing, health and human services, and infrastructure. Dr. Wowk emphasizes that, “A regional approach can empower and connect local officials, providing a coordinated strategy in gaining additional resources and advancing locally-led ideas.” To examine this approach three example cities are presented: Denham Springs, Louisiana; Baker, Louisiana; and Sierra-Nevada Region, Southeast Florida. All three locations were successful utilizing a regional approach, implementing some sort of recovery plan with specific priorities, initiatives, and/or outcomes in coordination or partnerships with a variety of agencies and governmental organizations. They continue to move forward with these efforts to fulfill the goals put forth in their plans.

          As with many things there are challenges in these resilience approach initiatives. The biggest challenge is the large number of partners across the public and private sector who need to be involved. These various entities play an important role in the process and need a voice in local and regional adaptation efforts. as they all have a role to play. However, there can be conflicting views and ideas so bringing together key decision makers to the table to strategize is a critical first step and Dr. Wowk asserts that the benefits outweigh any costs and challenges that this regional approach may present. One example given was the regional approach allows for more opportunities for smaller areas to gain access to grants and larger funding sources. In addition, a well-coordinated adaptation of a regional approach can more effectively foster resilience across an entire region, and bring together communities and decision makers to promote successful planning strategies.
                Building on previous works of the Coastal Bend Mitigation Action Plan, the Texas Coastal Resiliency Master Plan in 2017 and 2019, Nueces County Texas Multi-Jurisdictional Hazard Mitigation Action Plan, and the Coastal Bend Council of Governments 2016 Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy Dr. Wowk is working towards developing a Regional Approach Partnership (RRP) and has drafted a Memorandum of Agreement establishing a joint project between Texas A&M Corpus Chrisi and the Coastal Bend Council of Governments. The objective of RRP is to build capacity of the Coastal Bend to mitigate disaster risk. RRP focuses on advancing strong economies and communities that are resilient to hazards such as coastal storms and surge, flooding and drought. To do so, the RRP will offer the following programs:

  1. Monthly training sessions
  2. Biweekly email listserv highlighting training, funding opportunities and other resources communities can use for recovery and resilience (listserv for Resilient & Adaptable Communities & Economies [RACE])
  3. Direct technical support and guidance to counties and cities on building and implementing recovery, resilience and risk mitigation plans
Dr. Wowk hopes to build a strong partnership and have a sustainable model in place for this regional approach initiative.

          The research and collaborative efforts being established are important and will provide a good model for others in the field. The IfSC looks forward to following the progress of this RRP initiative and the outcomes that result from it.