Exploring The State of Resilience

How do states plan for resilience? On Thursday, September 22, the Association of State Floodplain Managers (ASFPM) will host a webinar on state resilience plans through the Planning Information Exchange (PIE). This is the last in a two-year series led by the American Planning Association (APA), with which ASFPM has partnered, which is likely to be extended for two more years. The webinar is free as part of a

The St. Vrain watershed under more normal conditions during our visit.

The St. Vrain watershed under more normal conditions during our visit.

FEMA-sponsored project by the two organizations. I highly recommend registering for and listening to it if you have an hour for the purpose and are interested in resilience, a subject I have discussed before on this blog. Like other PIE webinars, it will also be recorded and archived on the APA website.

The subject of resilience has gained credence in recent years because it deals with the ways in which communities can prepare to rebound more quickly and efficiently from setbacks including natural disasters. The federal response to Hurricane Sandy highlighted the issue, but so have several other disasters in recent years. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development subsequently offered nearly $ billion in the National Disaster Resilience Competition for states and certain disaster-stricken eligible communities. Winners have been chosen and are already using the money for their proposed projects.

The operative question is what characteristics a community can cultivate that will help it better respond to such crises. But it is not just about communities. Some states in recent years have decided to take the lead in fostering resilient communities and in providing expertise to assist the process. The webinar will feature speakers from Colorado and New York.

Colorado got resilience religion, in a manner of speaking, after the September 2013 floods that affected numerous Front Range communities following a mountain monsoon rainstorm that dumped more than a foot of rain on many places. I have previously, for instance, discussed the recovery of the small town of Lyons, just below the mountains, which suffered devastating flooding. Lyons was not alone, however; it was simply one of the most extreme examples of the flooding that occurred.

Emboldened in its approach to hazard mitigation, the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) in early 2015 issued a request for proposals to find a consulting firm to develop statewide guidance customized to Colorado communities on the integration of hazard mitigation into community planning processes. Colorado deals with an interesting assortment of major hazard threats—floods, landslides, tornadoes, wildfires, and avalanches, to name the most significant. Often, these combine in a cascading series of disasters in which one problem leads to another. Things can get complicated. DOLA later published that guidance online on the agency’s website. Much of the guidance is ultimately derived from an APA Planning Advisory Service Report, Hazard Mitigation: Integrating Best Practices into Planning. Although that report did not emphasize the concept of resilience, it did lay out a rationale and method for such integration that is the focus of a good deal of current guidance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Subsequently, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper adopted the new Colorado Resiliency Framework. At the same time, he created the Colorado Resiliency and Recovery Office, which provides guidance on community resilience and maintains a website for that purpose.

New York has also been pursuing resilience issues at the state level, inspired by the impacts of Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Two years ago, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law the Community Risk and Resiliency Act, which requires the New York Department of Environmental Conservation to use science-based projections for sea level rise, consider those and storm surge in facility permitting, siting, and funding, and provide model local laws and guidance for communities in managing climate risks. The state is now also in the process of developing a New York State Flood Risk Management Standard that mirrors the federal standard promulgated by the Obama administration last year.

Parts of the nation may be gun-shy about the subject of climate change, but Colorado and New York are major parts of a bandwagon of states that have decided to confront the issue and build a more resilient future. Rhode Island in 2014 adopted the Resilient Rhode Island Act, which establishes a scientific advisory board to examine and recommend standards for the state. The new law has strong civic support and a cheering section in Resilient Rhode Island, a group supporting the new legislation.

There will be other states following the lead of these three. With Colorado on board, it is also clear that resilience is not an issue solely facing coastal states because of sea level rise. Disaster threats to communities take many forms, and climate change has consequences for inland areas as well. Wiser state legislatures will be taking a long look at how to get ahead of the problem instead of merely reacting to it.

P.S.: For those interested in learning more about disaster recovery, especially if you are in a position to act on the information, I can also suggest a Friday, September 23, two-hour Recovery Planning Webinar sponsored by APA’s Hazard Mitigation and Disaster Recovery Planning Division, for which I will be one of the presenters. The division is organizing this special webinar to benefit planners and community officials in disaster-stricken areas such as Louisiana who may need to know more about how to rebuild resilient communities. If interested, please note the following:

REGISTRATION   This webinar is also open to non-members of APA but first a Non-Member APA Account must be obtained (no cost) at:     https://www.planning.org/myapa/account/create/ All users must pre-register at:  https://www.planning.org/events/eventsingle/9111457/  Registrants will receive an email containing a user-specific login for the Adobe Connect webinar.

This FREE webinar will take place on Friday, September 23, 2016 from 11:00-1:00 p.m. EDT (10 am CDT; 9 am MDT; 8 am PDT).


Jim Schwab

Voters Beware

Labor Day has passed in America, and that traditionally means presidential candidates launch their campaigns in earnest, though it is hard to say in reality when that transition occurred in 2016, if not immediately after the Republic and Democratic conventions. I cannot recall any respite, although it is clear that Donald Trump, the Republican nominee, has struggled to solidify the management of his race to the White House. He is, of the course, the newcomer, and Hillary Clinton has had time to practice this routine.

I have no great desire in this blog post to pontificate on the merits of the two candidates. It is clear enough that neither will enter the Oval Office unscarred and flawless, so it behooves voters to make some clear-headed determinations of just who they think is actually better, or even if they prefer to give the nod to a third-party candidate like Gary Johnson or Jill Stein. For the record, I will not kid anyone: I think Hillary Clinton has been far more serious and steady in her approach to the campaign, even if she is utterly human and far from perfect. But I can understand why many voters are uneasy or dissatisfied with their choices, though I also think that in a democracy, an imperfect choice is far better than none at all. Our republic has survived numerous mediocre presidencies, and some candidates who seemed less convincing at the outset in fact became some of our greatest, while others entered office with great expectations and produced great disappointment. I have read dozens of presidential biographies over the years. I know. There have been no saints in the White House, but there surely have been some heroes.

With that in mind, I want to bring to readers’ attention a solid piece of writing by a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter, David Cay Johnston. His book, The Making of Donald Trump, follows the candidate’s family and career across three generations, concentrating, of course, on Donald Trump as an adult, a businessman, and most recently a politician. If someone really wants to be fully aware of what he or she is getting in Trump as a presidential candidate, this is essential reading.

There are and will be numerous other books as a result of this unusual and unorthodox campaign. Many are and will be mediocre, no matter which candidate they profile, or whether they cover both or the campaign generally, because so often such books are either whole-hearted advocacies of one cause or another, or are hatchet jobs directed at opponents, or aim to fire up supporters with broad platitudes. I do not generally waste my time on them. Serious investigative journalism, however, is another matter because people of Johnston’s caliber respect facts, know how to ferret them out even when candidates prefer to bury them, and insist on the truth.

Johnston does all the above. We learn that Trump University has little to do with Trump personally but a great deal to do with ripping people off. Johnston details that the Trump Foundation made a donation to the campaign of Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, which raises instant questions of illegality (foundations are not allowed to donate to campaigns) and propriety (Bondi was pondering whether Florida should join a suit against Trump University and declined). We learn that Trump has retained business associates with ties to organized crime. And these are but the beginning. There may be explanations for some of these situations, but I have not heard them. What I have seen on numerous interview shows on CNN, MSNBC, and other formats is a line of Trump surrogates regularly trying to deflect attention from these questions by pointing to some allegations against Clinton. That may seem like an effective tactic, but it is becoming transparently evasive, to the point where just yesterday I watched one of them, Boris Epshteyn, try to speak over another guest to drown out what he did not want to hear. Such behavior has taken political crudeness to new levels, even though we have all seen some of this before.

Johnston, in concluding his modest tome, says that he wrote about Trump mostly because he was introduced to him more than 25 years ago as a New Jersey reporter covering development in Atlantic City, where Trump was building a casino. Had he been in Arkansas instead, he notes, he might have written instead about Clinton. If I find a book of similar investigative quality that explores Hillary Clinton’s career, I will share it with readers because this campaign is important. But what is curious about Johnston’s conclusion is that he also reaches for a moral tone that sometimes escapes investigative reporters, who can become cynical over time, although the best invariably retain a strong commitment to unveiling the truth. But few would ring up this paragraph near the end of such a book:

Trump says he does not see any reason to seek divine forgiveness because he has done nothing wrong in his entire life, an oft-made observation so at odds with the most basic teachings of Jesus that I am at a loss to explain any religious leader embracing him. Trump’s own words are aggressively antithetical to the teachings of the New Testament. His understanding of the one Old Testament phrase he knows is warped at best. Now factor in his statements denigrating communion—“I drink my little wine, eat my little cracker”—and his fumbling pronunciation of Paul’s second letter to the believers in Corinth, and weigh them against his claim that he reads the Bible more than anyone else. These are signs of a deceiver.

He goes on to say that both Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders “tapped into a frustration I have chronicled for decades,” and concludes that neither has the skill to address problems of inequality, and that while Clinton has both the skills and a history “on behalf of the less fortunate,” it may not be her top priority.

His afterword is dated July 4, 2016. The book has not been out for long.


Jim Schwab

Can You Sue the Government for Climate Change Impacts?

The American Planning Association has just posted today this article I wrote for its APA blog: https://www.planning.org/blog/blogpost/9111027/.

Jim Schwab