By Melissa Schneider, Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant
There are many tools in the resilience toolbox to help communities become stronger against coastal storms and other disasters. The Coastal Community Resilience Index is one that has been proven to help communities better prepare for major hurricanes and other disasters. br>
The self-assessment brings together elected officials, public works directors, emergency managers, and other leaders at the community-government level to take an in-depth look at their community’s level of resilience. They discuss 57 indicators organized around six categories to identify vulnerabilities, capitalize on strengths and assess future impacts of disasters.
The Resilience Index focuses on the locations of critical infrastructure (is it in a special flood hazard area?), transportation issues (will bridges be out and for how long?), mitigation measures (are the most recent International Building Codes being used?) and community plans (does the comprehensive plan address disasters?). The Resilience Index also looks at how prepared community businesses are, such as grocery stores and fuel distributors, and the social systems, such as civic organizations and churches, that have a strong presence in the community.
The Resilience Index has been completed by 47 communities across the Gulf of Mexico, and 74 facilitators (including staff members from Texas Sea Grant, Louisiana Sea Grant, Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant and Florida Sea Grant) have been trained to deliver the tool and provide technical assistance to the communities that use it.
The Resilience Index has been a great success, according to an internal evaluation. The evaluation shows that 93.8 percent of those who participated in the evaluation felt the index exercise was a good use of their time and has made their communities better prepared for a major storm. Some comments from people who participated in the Resilience Index evaluation included:
“We were able to identify our businesses that provide critical services, such as food, fuel, financial, medical and building repairs.”
“As a group, we had an opportunity to become aware of the preparations and measures in place by other agencies in our community and how they will respond to a storm event.”
“We are viewing [issues] more as a group than by individual departments.”
“The evaluation showed us that municipalities are addressing vulnerabilities in a variety of ways, each unique to the community,” said Tracie Sempier, coastal storms outreach coordinator with the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium. “The index is particularly effective at creating a broad community discussion, and it serves as a good entry point for further comprehensive planning around topics, such as sea level change.”
The late Rod Emmer of Louisiana Sea Grant and Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Director LaDon Swann began developing the Resilience Index shortly after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf of Mexico in 2005. br>
The success of the Resilience Index and the unexpected Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 have led to the development of additional indices.
“We have learned that additional tools are needed to assess the resilience of the businesses that form the economic foundation for coastal communities,” said LaDon Swann, director of the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium. “Over the last year, a team of industry leaders has been helping MASGC develop a Fisheries Resilience Index and a Tourism Resilience Index.”
Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant is working with several partners to pilot test the Fisheries Resilience Index and the Tourism Resilience Index. The Fisheries Index focuses on indicators important to commercial and recreational fishermen, seafood processors and marina owners. The Tourism Index addresses 10 categories, including communications, marketing, disaster operations and workforce issues.
Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant is in the process of updating the Coastal Community Resilience Index. It will be a more robust tool for communities with the addition of a small number of new indicators for environmental health, natural systems and climate change. The revised index, the Fisheries Index and Tourism Index are expected to be complete by the end of the year.
In addition, the Gulf of Mexico Alliance is developing similar indices for the ports/harbors industry and the oil/gas industry through a NOAA CRest grant.
Coastal Community Resilience Index: http://masgc.org/coastal-storms-program/resilience-index