July 29, 2022
Vice President, Environmental Affairs and Sustainability, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
Disaster can strike at any moment, from pandemics to wildfires to global warfare. Without the right infrastructure and investments in resilience capacity, these disasters can leave behind a wake of shock as communities struggle to bounce back.
During the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s 11th annual Building Resilience Through Private-Public Partnerships Conference, public health professionals and other industry experts discussed the state of current pre-disaster investments and possible improvements to create stronger and more resilient communities in light of crises.
Rethinking How We Prepare for Disaster Requires Improving Infrastructure
In the face of disaster, communities are left to repair and rebuild what was impacted. However, Sarah Kapnick, Ph.D., Chief Scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), believes that we should rethink how we rebuild by using each disaster as an opportunity to make critical improvements to the affected community’s infrastructure.
“As we understand climate change and its physical effects on our built environment, there needs to be rethinking around not building back to the exactly the way things were, but thinking about climate change, about the current risks events and how those risks are going to unfold over time, and the lifetime of that infrastructure or those buildings, to be able to build it to be resilient for future events,” Kapnick said.
Governments Should Invest in New Programs to Mitigate Potential Risks
As the need for climate adaptation becomes more necessary, some programs are beginning to receive large amounts of additional funding to get ahead in their efforts.
H. Camille Crain, Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) Section Chief at FEMA, described some of the programs that are currently being funded and implemented in preparation for natural disasters — such as hazard mitigation and flood mitigation programs.
“Right now is an unprecedented time in the amount of mitigation money that FEMA has to make available,” Crain said. “I think that really stresses the importance of partnerships, especially how the private sector can help. These are small communities that are seeing a large influx of money being available, and it's really an opportunity right now to make that successful… Helping communities really take advantage of this opportunity right now with all this funding is key.”
Supporting Federal Resilience Programs That Make a Change
In looking at ways to improve disaster preparedness moving forward, Blake Nanney, Manager of Federal Relations at The American Institute of Architects (AIA), highlighted a piece of legislation — called the Resilient AMERICA Act — that provides more flexibility and transparency to states and local communities so they can be better equipped for disaster before it happens.
“[The bill] takes a closer look at and tries to improve the state of pre-disaster mitigation instead of just reacting post-disaster,” Nanney said.
The bill increases brick allocation specifically for pre-disaster mitigation from 6% up to 15%. In addition, it provides the ability to update critical infrastructure for better preparedness.
“There's a separate set-aside for the FEMA administrator to utilize [and] support the state's localities and local communities to adopt the latest building codes,” Nanney explained. “For AIA and architects, we have long advocated that building code adoption and building up to more recent additions of those codes is one of the most effective methods of pairing your building, or in the built environment broadly, to withstand natural disaster threats and to also be energy efficient and sustainable.”