Innovative partnerships drive economic discussion at State Resilience Summit

netherlandsA project in the Netherlands combined flood mitigation with local housing development. Photo by Royal Netherlands Embassy.

When state governments focus on resilience, who should be their key partners? How can unconventional stakeholders lend their support to the process?

Those questions took center stage today at the Governors’ Institute on Community Design State Resilience and Economic Growth Summit in Washington, DC. The two-day event is bringing together experts on disaster recovery and long-term resilience to discuss best practices and new strategies for states. The Governors’ Institute on Community Design is an initiative of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Transportation administered by Smart Growth America.

The Summit’s second day kicked off this morning with a panel discussion on Better Economic Outcomes through Hazard Resilience. Alex Kaplan, Vice President of Global Partnerships and Public Sector Business at Swiss Re, started the discussion with an overview of Swiss Re’s innovations in disaster insurance for communities. Kaplan shared data illustrating that, as economic losses from natural disasters have risen in recent years, the “uninsured” portion of those losses—borne by individuals, by businesses, and “overwhelmingly by local governments”—had ballooned out of proportion.

Continuing to shoulder the costs of extreme disaster recovery is “an absolutely unsustainable path for states and local governments,” Kaplan said. Instead, he described how some communities, such as southern Alabama and Haiti, put in place mechanisms to finance disaster recovery in advance. He compared insuring against the financial shock of disaster to planning resilient land use strategies or preparing evacuation strategies.

Next, Dale Morris, Senior Economist at the Royal Netherlands Embassy, discussed how the Dutch approach to resilience differs from the U.S. government’s—and what the two have learned from each other. The Dutch, he said, are pioneers at planning and mitigation, building resilience principles into every infrastructure or development project. He shared a number of on-the-ground examples—from a beachfront community that combined tourist amenities with a flood-controlling dune to a mixed-use development with “floodable” ground floors and evacuation training for residents.

Morris stressed that all the Dutch’s resilience achievements built on that philosophy of totally integrated prevention—and said that many communities in the United States have been able to learn from that approach. In turn, he noted that the Dutch have closely studied the United States’ world-class disaster response capabilities, and have been an innovative partner in supporting American communities in the wake of disasters.

In the third and final presentation, Bob Perciasepe, President of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, shared what he had learned in surveying the global business community’s strategies for resilience. “The vast majority of these largest corporations in the world,” said Perciasepe, “are working to deal with extreme weather and climate change. They’re identifying clearly that these are business risks to be faced.”

Resilience-focused businesses pose a major partnership opportunity for local and state governments, Perciasepe said, on account of several factors: their considerable risk management resources, their economic incentives to mitigate the effects of disaster, and their operations’ impact on disaster-affected populations, to name a few. Perciasepe shared a brief example from Hurricane Sandy, in which the American Water Company combined its assets—a fleet of generators—with the City of New York’s—working space and fuel—to keep drinking water pumps operational for the community. “There are lots of opportunities for collaboration,” Perciasepe concluded, “from as simple as sharing the fuel to as complicated as designing a city.”

A brief question-and-answer session followed, in which all three panelists discussed how low-income and at-risk communities were a key target for collaborative resilience strategies. Smart Growth America’s Chief of Staff Ilana Preuss concluded by tying the panelists’ message to the Summit’s state-level theme, calling insurers, peer regions, and the business community “essential partners and stakeholders” in state government resilience strategies.