Review of “Standards and Finance to Support Community Resilience”

As noted on this blog on December 26, the White House released a report titled Standards and Finance to Support Community Resilience.  The Diva asked John Plodinec, guru on the topic of resilience, to provide a review of the report. John blogs at the Community and Regional Resilience Institute.

Here is his review:

Knowing my focus on (obsession with?) community resilience, Claire Rubin asked me to review this relatively short (29 pp) report from the OMB.  The report zeroes in on the one aspect of community resilience most frequently ignored by academics:  funding.  It is far more fashionable to focus the social or socio-ecological aspects of resilience; but the work of Rick Weil in particular points out that recovery requires resources as well as the people with the skill and the will to use them.

The report is chock full of important facts, a few factoids, and one glaring omission.  Its strongest chapter is right up front – making the case for investments in resilience.  It starts by citing the oft-quoted 4-to-1 return on federal mitigation investments determined by NIBS’ Multihazard Mitigation Council.  It couples this with studies from the Institute for Business and Home Safety that show that adoption and enforcement of appropriate building codes can reduce insurance claims due to hurricanes significantly.  Very importantly, this section points to several instances in which communities made investments and indicates their ROIs.  This is probably the most important section for practitioners – a collection of facts and anecdotes that make a powerful case for investments in mitigation.

This chapter then delves into the messy subject of insurance and building standards.  “Messy”   because of the widely divergent approaches to both insurance and building codes taken by each state.  Almost always ignored at the federal level, the 50 states’ varying acceptance of “Home Rule” for communities makes it difficult to justify general statements about what communities can or should do.

This is followed by an interesting discussion of the importance of a community’s resilience on it credit rating.  I was aware of some of this, but the report pulls together several pieces to show that lack of mitigation can lead to a reduced credit rating.  This section then concludes by pointing to “blind spots” where we need means to better assess risk and the ROI of mitigation.

The second chapter examines the nexus among building codes and standards, community governance, and resilience, particularly in the context of “climate change” and residences.  It rightly points out that current codes do not address where to build, only what and how to build.  There is a brief but good discussion of “above code” standards such as IBHS’ Fortified Home.  The chapter closes with recommended actions to improve the resilience of the nation’s housing stock.

The third chapter looks at financing retrofits for resilience.  Several programs are mentioned but the list is neither comprehensive nor especially informative.  The fourth chapter – “Enabling and Accelerating Resilience” – detailing federal and NGO efforts “to develop data and tools to support community resilience and platforms to increase the sharing of data, information, models, and analytic tools across agencies and sectors.”  This chapter also examines incentivization of resilience.  Innovative financial approaches by North Carolina, Alabama, Florida and Connecticut are highlighted.  The chapter concludes by considering how changes in tax policies might incentivize investments in resilience.

All in all a fairly comprehensive yet compact view of financing community resilience from a federal perspective.  This gives rise to the “glaring omission” I mentioned:  it doesn’t really look at investing in resilience from a community perspective.  For example:

  •  The focus is on pre-disaster financing, esp. mitigation. But what if a community does not have sufficient capital or credit to invest in itself?  What if the community is in a state that constrains the community’s ability to invest (e.g., limits its bonding authority)?  These communities need to follow other strategies to increase their resilience; the report is silent about financing non-mitigation approaches to resilience.
  • While the report appropriately points out the importance of a community’s governance to things like building codes, it ignores the larger question of how a community’s investments relate to its governance. For example, the report barely acknowledges that most of our nation’s infrastructure is in private hands.  When and how should private companies pay for public goods (e.g., buried power lines)?
  • Beyond the SBA’s loan programs, there is no discussion of investments to increase the resilience of a community’s business sector. And yet, a community will not be able to recover from disaster unless its business sector does.

What is needed is a companion volume that looks at investment in community resilience from the community perspective.  This should look at each state – how communities are constrained and what each is doing (or not) to invest in its resilience.  For those of you who read John Travis Marshall’s article, communities need to have that kind of mirror so that they can not only see themselves but can see what can be done to make themselves more resilient.

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