Post-Irma: What Does It Mean To Be A "Resilient" Community?

Oct 17, 2017

Resiliency is more than dealing with sea level rise, and Hurricane Irma made that point clearly, South Florida officials said at a post-Irma summit on Monday.

The Miami Foundation hosted the event, which included a panel discussion among Monroe County administrator Roman Gastesi and the three resilience officers for the Miami metropolitan area. The officials say the key to better preparing South Florida for future storms is addressing chronic issues like low wages, aging infrastructure and high housing costs.

"Resilience planning is far beyond just thinking about what we do in the immediate days before a hurricane," said Jane Gilbert, chief resilience officer for the City of Miami. "It's really about how do we look at the underlying social, physical, technological infrastructure."

The storm had serious consequences for some of South Florida's most vulnerable residents. Many people who are unemployed or live on fixed incomes struggled to buy food before and after Irma. Students who qualify for free and reduced-price meals went hungry with schools closed. Elderly and disabled people were left without power or ice; at least 80 of them spent more than a week in a parking lot because their subsidized housing complex was deemed unsafe.

A handful of community organizations and businesses attempted to fill pre- and post-storm voids with barbecues, handouts of ice and water and free tree removal for people who couldn't otherwise afford help

Formalizing connections with organizations that can help governments render aid is one way South Florida could improve its hurricane response, said Jim Murley, chief resilience officer for Miami-Dade County.

But he and the other officials said their broader goal is to strengthen communities so that when a storm hits, people don't have to worry about being able to afford supplies or cleanup services, or being forced out of their apartments because a storm worsens already-poor living conditions.

"That's where the private sector can come in," said Gastesi, the Monroe County administrator. He said Monroe County is focusing on affordable housing as part of its overall resilience strategy.

"Everybody’s going to have to start taking care of their own for employees and for housing. The school board right now is talking about building teacher housing, employee housing."

Gastesi and other South Florida planners say they’re eager to collaborate with private sector partners, residents and community groups on their resiliency plans. In addition to county-specific plans, there are two regional partnerships:

The Southeast Florida Regional Climate Action Plan came out in 2012 and covers Monroe, Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. It lays out strategies for addressing sea level rise and climate change, but also emphasizes improvements to transportation, energy infrastructure and emergency management. A revision of the 2012 plan is underway and a draft is open for public comment through Nov. 8. Leaders say they welcome input related to Hurricane Irma.

Miami-Dade County and the cities of Miami and Miami Beach are participating in the 100 Resilient Cities program, an international collaboration intended to help cities mitigate future threats from "shocks," like hurricanes and Zika outbreaks, and "stresses," like traffic, high housing costs and rising temperatures due to global warming. The resilience officers have just completed their preliminary assessment of the region's strengths and weakness and will be establishing working groups towards rolling out a long-term resiliency plan.