State and local partnerships prove essential at State Resilience Summit

080609-F-6967G-196Flooding in places like Lake Delton, WI prompted the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation to focus on local disaster recovery strategies. Photo by Paul Gormond, via Wikimedia Commons.

How can states partner with local authorities to improve disaster resilience, while also addressing local economic, environmental and equity concerns?

An expert panel tackled this question earlier this week at the Governors’ Institute on Community Design State Resilience and Economic Growth Summit in Washington, DC. The two-day event brought together experts on disaster recovery and long-term resilience to discuss best practices and new strategies with state and federal leaders. 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.

In a day two breakout session on “The Role of State and Local Partnerships”, participants heard from leaders on the challenges of building strong state-local partnerships for resilience implementation.

Gail MacAskill, Sector Development Manager for the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), began the session, describing how Wisconsin works to help communities prepare to recover economically from disasters. After three years of researching best practices around the world, WEDC published the Community Economic Recovery Guidebook. The guidebook outlines actions for local economic development and business support organizations, private sector entities, and local leaders (together called a Local Economic Advisory Recovery Network) to enhance their community’s economic resilience in the Response, Recovery, Mitigation and Preparedness phases of the disaster cycle.

Next, Camille Manning-Broome, Senior Vice President of Planning and Implementation for the Center for Planning Excellence (CPEX), shared her experiences working in Louisiana. With many communities still recovering from Hurricane Katrina—and the state losing coastline every day—CPEX works to help communities establish long-term planning visions and improve disaster resilience. CPEX’s initiatives bridge the state and local levels: for example, their state-funded Louisiana Land Use Toolkit and Best Practices Manual for Development in Coastal Louisiana offer strategies, ordinances, and other resources designed to help low-capacity communities increase hazard resilience.

The New York–based NY Rising Community Reconstruction Program has also found success in connecting state and local authorities, said Policy Director Kate Dineen. The NY Rising program identifies the state’s most disaster-impacted communities and engages them in grassroots resilience planning, developing community visions, risk assessments, and strategies to “Build Back Better.” Communities also propose resilience projects, to be carried out with CDBG funding. In the program’s ongoing first round, 50 communities participated, generating a combined 600 project proposals, many of which are now moving into implementation.

Next, Sherry Godlewski, Environmental Program Manager for the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, discussed how her state is working to integrate climate change into the municipal planning process. To that end, Godlewski said, collaborative workgroups have become key in “starting the community conversations” needed to move these efforts forward. She cited workgroups such as the Coastal Adaptation Workgroup and Upper Valley Adaptation Workgroup, each of which brings together a wide range of agencies, organizations, municipalities, academic institutions, consultants, NGOs, and businesses to hold public forums, share data, and learn from one another. The Upper Valley Adaptation Workgroup, she said, even calls on regional representatives from across the border in nearby Vermont in order to leave no stakeholder untapped.

Throughout the afternoon, the panel’s tales of state-local partnership efforts focused on the challenges of building trust. Strong partnerships between local, regional, and state stakeholders is an essential foundation, said Sherry Godlewski, before resilience strategies and outcomes can begin to take shape. State-level engagement with public and local leaders—within a framework for achieving tangible results—was frequently cited as an effective model.

In that way, noted Camille Manning-Broome, state programs like these represent a paradigm shift for how states and localities think about hazard resilience. States and communities must work together on more proactive initiatives that consider “long-term consequences and decision making,” she said, rather than just offering an “ad-hoc response” in the face of impending disaster.

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