Rebuild for Resilience, Not Just Recovery
A new federal framework for disaster recovery would make coastal regions more resilient and save billions, according to Lessons from Sandy: Federal Policies to Build Climate-Resilient Coastal Regions, co-authored by Robert Pirani and Laura Tolkoff of the Regional Plan Association. The report was announced at the RPA’s Regional Assembly in New York last week.
“It is clear that our coastal communities cannot just simply rebuild after climate events like Superstorm Sandy. They must rebuild smarter and stronger,” said Armando Carbonell, senior fellow and chairman of the Department of Planning and Urban Form at the Lincoln Institute. “Federal policies must be re-aligned to ensure that resilience is part and parcel of recovery efforts.”
The report recommends a series of necessary changes in disaster recovery, recalibrating the process of funding relief and recovery efforts, modifying regulations, and putting incentives in place to encourage better adaptation to the inevitable impacts of climate change – volatile weather, sea level rise, and storm surge. Greater resilience must be built into the repair of vital transportation and energy infrastructure in particular, the report says.
A new approach to rebuilding that addresses both short-term needs and long-range planning will require changes across the board in disaster recovery, from the National Flood Insurance Program to the Federal Emergency Management Agency to the work of the US Army Corps of Engineers – all in coordination with state and local governments. The report also calls for more clarity about how National Environmental Protection Act and other environmental standards and reviews apply to recovery efforts.
The authors of the report examined the relief and recovery efforts following Superstorm Sandy, which made landfall in Brigantine, New Jersey, on October 29, 2012, inundating key infrastructure, disabling power plants and transmission lines, and leaving 4.5 million in three states without electricity. The storm surge easily overtopped protective dunes and floodwalls from Atlantic City to New London, damaging more than 600,000 homes and killing 60 people. Estimated damage topped $65 billion.
As the wakeup call that elevated the discussion about disasters and climate change at all levels of government, Sandy made it clear that current recovery strategies, urban planning, and coastal management practices were no longer viable; in the face of rising sea levels, these outdated approaches undermine riverine and coastal ecosystems, endangering people, property, and regional economies that represent a significant portion of national GDP.
Lessons from Sandy identifies a set of policies, regulations, and administrative practices that federal agencies can adopt to help coastal metropolitan areas become more resilient. In addition, the research documents how state and local governments recovering from Hurricane Sandy sought to use federal aid to create a more resilient region, and it describes the obstacles they encountered.
The authors establish why coastal regions matter and warrant stronger support from federal policies, for a more integrated approach to managing our nation’s coastal resources. They recommend reforms to existing policies, regulations, and administrative procedures that could make disaster recovery aid more flexible and supportive of climate adaptation. Without such reforms, it will be difficult for cities and their regions to adapt to climate change and for the federal government to reduce its fiscal exposure in the face of extreme weather events.
In examining federal flood insurance and risk management approaches, the authors detail reforms and incentives to help regions appropriately regulate vulnerable coastal areas while sustaining them as attractive places to live and do business.