TIE Symposium and Workshop at NCSE Conference

Can We Survive Another Sandy? Tufts Institute of the Environment Panel to Assess Resilience to Environmental Disasters

The Tufts Institute of the Environment has brought together scholars and practitioners from around the globe for its symposium and workshop at the 13th annual National Council for Science and the Environment conference in Washington, DC. Nicknamed “DisasterCon,” this year the theme is preparedness and resilience. This event draws a wide range of attendees and presenters from both the public and private sectors, from scientists to conservationists to local government officials. Over 1,200 participants in all, they will come to share experiences, foment new partnerships, and strategize ways to improve the way environmental disasters are dealt with. Registration is currently open for the conference.

The Tufts Institute of the Environment will host two events at the conference, one focusing on the Northeast and the other with an eye to international issues surrounding resilience. According to TIE Administrative Director Antje Danielson, this is because “recent events have laid bare the problematic infrastructural weaknesses in our urban areas in the US. As residents, we are most acutely affected by and aware of these domestic situations, especially in the Northeast. But as we develop this expertise, it’s essential that we share it with other vulnerable coastal areas around the world that are going through rapid development.”

The first is a symposium entitled Coastal Cities: Planning for Resilience, Adaptation, and Sustainability – Lessons from the Northeast and Superstorm Sandy. Panel members include Tufts Political Science Professor Dr. Kent Portney; UNH Civil Engineering Research Professor Dr. Paul Kirshen; Director of the Urban Harbors Institute out of the University of Massachusetts, Boston, Jack Wiggin; Director of the New England Environmental Finance Center and the University of Southern Maine School of Public Service Associate Research Professor Dr. Sam Merrill; and Director, NOAA Coastal Services Center Margaret Davidson, J.D.

In this symposium, the panel will consider resilience (disaster prevention and disaster response) from the perspective of vulnerable urban areas along coastal areas confronted with sea level rise, more frequent and severe extreme weather events, and other natural disasters. Given the expertise of the symposium panel members, their insights will focus on cities and communities in the Northeast of the United States.

The experts will tackle the following questions: What do municipalities need to plan for adequate resilience? What does proactive planning and investment in vulnerable communities look like? What are existing best practices that can be translated to the rapidly growing coastal cities of developing countries?

As Hurricane Sandy so deftly proved, the status quo is to perform risk analysis and disaster recovery afterward, rather than risk reduction and prevention beforehand. The symposium panel will bring the perspective of science, city governance, civil engineering, planning, and economics to this topic.

The symposium will provide insights and context for Workshop 4, to take place on the following day, which will take a broad, international perspective to developing strategies for effective responses.

The second event, Workshop 4, is entitled Coastal Communities: Planning for Resilience, Adaptation, and Sustainability – Building Resilient Coastal Communities, an International Agenda. During this session, participants will consider resilience from the perspective of disaster prevention in addition to disaster response.  While extreme weather events are predicted to increase dramatically in our lifetime, both in frequency and in severity, more careful and prescient planning can prevent communities from the worst of harm caused by such changes, and other natural disasters, and create more sustainable cities for the long-term.  But how can rapidly growing coastal cities–especially those in the Global South–prepare for upcoming extreme weather events? This workshop will highlight the opportunity costs as well as potential savings of a resilience strategy based in prevention.

Every year the conference and its side events serve as platform where research directly informs policies on environment-related National security issues. The workshop participants have produced recommendations that brief Federal task forces to consider policy implications. The TIE-led workshop will be an important contribution to the NCSE briefing document.