DUSP MCP’s reflections on RES/CON 2017
In March, five DUSP master in city planning students, Sam Jung (‘17), Alaa Mukahhal (‘17), Insiyah Mohammad (‘17), Carey Dunfey (‘17), and Anna Doty (‘17), attended RES/CON Global Resilience Summit in New Orleans. RES/CON is the premier annual international conference on the practice of successful resilience and disaster management in an evolving global environment. Held along the Mississippi River in New Orleans at the Ernest N Morial Convention Center, the conference draws experts from a variety of fields who work on resilience and disaster issues across the country. As attendees, we sat in on panels ranging from issues related to the future of the National Flood Insurance Program to rural economic sustainability, from financing resiliency measures to transforming city systems. We connected with city planners in the private and public sectors, chatted with recent DUSP grads, and heard insight from emergency managers working in diverse sectors across the country. We left feeling inspired by the talented and dedicated practitioners working tirelessly in this field and excited by the prospect of being able to contribute to creating solutions to resiliency and disaster management challenges faced by cities big and small.
The day before the conference, we were able to attend and receive certification of attendance for a day-long training on Community Resilience offered by the University of Hawai’i’s National Disaster Preparedness Training Center (NDPTC). This workshop, lead by two Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) facilitators, provided us with insight into the basics behind building community resilience: preparation and planning; absorption; recovery; and adaptation. Through interactive workshops, we worked in teams with other participants, some of whom had been working in the resiliency field for over 10 years. In one of these workshops, we split up into groups and were given a map of an unknown city in the U.S. with demographic, geographic, and social information, as well as a disaster scenario (e.g. hurricane, earthquake, drought, etc.). After identifying community assets, we worked together identifying the most vulnerable areas, assessing the potential impact, and developing long term preparation plans and short term emergency response measures. In our analyses, we raised questions about what additional pieces of information were necessary to understand vulnerability in that context. Here, we realized the importance of community capacity in all resilience work, recognizing the value of stakeholder engagement in not only preparing and planning for disasters, but also in ensuring that communities can adapt and bounce back from any setbacks.
Over the next two days at the conference, we learned from a diverse set of practitioners in the emergent field of climate resiliency, experiencing first hand the importance of framing climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies as localized issues with transnational implications. As a multi-scalar and multi-disciplinary challenge, resilience should be considered a framework for planning, rather than a singular planning challenge. As such, resiliency needs to be built into budgets; it requires inter-agency collaboration and integration into all aspects of physical and economic planning.
During the NDPTC training we attended, one of the facilitators emphasized that resilience is indeed about working proactively, understanding risks, and adapting. However, he stressed that resiliency, most importantly, is about learning. It’s a long-term process that ensures community engagement at multiple scales, from individuals to businesses, community groups, and municipal governments. When we think of resiliency, we tend to think of hard assets, like infrastructure, hospitals, homes, and schools. However, to develop sustainable and adaptive plans, planners and resiliency managers must engage the “soft assets” like human capital. Several resiliency practitioners have raised that the most difficult aspect of their jobs is to engage and sustain community stakeholders in meaningful ways through preparedness (non-disaster) years. Human capital is one of the most important assets that cities have for preparation for disaster emergencies. Spending time and money on preparation strategies and hazard mitigation yields fewer losses and greater savings post disaster. These concerns underscore the need for long lasting community engagement strategies in resiliency planning.