Charting the Path for the Gulf
By Jody Thompson, Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Program
As the Gulf Coast’s population increases, so does the number of people at risk of floods, hurricanes, and other storm-related events. Coastal managers and community decision makers are working to improve their communities’ capacity to recover from stressors, thereby reducing immediate impacts and long-term economic losses. The first step in doing so is to identify areas of vulnerabilities and gaps in hazards management and planning.
Recognizing that communities need support and assistance, the Gulf of Mexico Alliance, with the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium (MASGC) and Louisiana Sea Grant, developed the Coastal Community Resilience Index (CRI) as a tool to help Gulf communities increase awareness of their susceptibility to natural hazard events.
The CRI is a simple and inexpensive tool that allows community leaders and officials to self-assess the impacts of a disaster on their community. Existing information, including data from recent studies, is used to examine the community’s resiliency in six main categories: critical infrastructure, transportation issues, community plans and agreements, mitigation measures, business plans, and social systems. When completed, the assessment allows for project prioritization and gives community leaders the ability to make informed decisions about where resources should be allocated for the next disaster. For too long, “Many coastal communities have not had access to the necessary resources to deal with hazards resilience. In turn, they rely heavily on their State and Federal partners” explains Lannie Smith, Floodplain Manager and Building Official for the City of Orange Beach, AL. The CRI gives local community leaders the tools to address hazard mitigation at their level, rather than the federal level, and gives them a non-biased concrete basis to implement improvements to their community. Most importantly, the CRI self-assessment process starts the dialogue at the community level.
Local planners, engineers, floodplain managers, and administrators complete the CRI which is facilitated by a trained professional. Having an outside, trained facilitator allows for the discussion of sensitive topics and assures that the outcome is thorough and nonbiased. Currently, there are over 50 trained facilitators from organizations including: the U.S. Department Of Agriculture Extension and Sea Grant Extension programs, NOAA’s National Estuarine Research Reserves (NERRs), academic institutions, and other groups who plan and implement community resilience. The resulting score from this process is the community’s to-do list. This aspect, as well as the role of the neutral facilitator, has encouraged several communities to address specific issues they had previously been unable to address. LaDon Swann, Director of MASGC, states that “while developing the CRI, we assumed that communities had regular meetings regarding their potential hazards and ways to be resilient. We were wrong. But now, communities are having this dialogue through the process of the CRI’s self-assessment.”
To date, the CRI has been pilot tested in 17 communities across the five Gulf states and 37 additional communities have participated. Though this tool was developed with the Gulf of Mexico region in mind, the CRI development, delivery and adaptation model can be transferred to all U.S. coastal communities, and can easily be adapted to include hazards effecting municipalities not located on the coast. Moreover, the CRI has evolved itself, and plans are now in place to release a Fisheries Resilience Index and Tourism Resilience Index.
The CRI is available on the web here. For more information, contact the CRI Regional Outreach Coordinator at Auburn University/Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium.
Implementation of the CRI is a project of the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium, Auburn University Marine Extension and Research Center, the Gulf of Mexico Alliance, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Gulf of Mexico Program.