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Building Resiliency in Virginia

How can Virginia increase the capacity to bounce back after extreme weather? How can communities adapt to more frequent flooding and higher temperatures? These questions are being asked by government leaders, scientists and non-profits as they seek to increase the Commonwealth’s “resiliency.” Catherine Komp has more for Virginia Currents.

Learn More: Find more resources from Resilient Virginia including their Family Resiliency checklist (PDF) and see details about the Science Museum of Virginia’s Extreme Event Challenge.

Transcript:

At the Science Museum of Virginia, Vic Buisset with the Office of Emergency Management demonstrates what should go into a preparedness kit.

Vic Buisset: A manual can opener, so you can open food, some gloves in case you had to move some debris to get in and out of your house, flashlights, extra batteries…

There’s an emergency blanket, disposable rain poncho, and a portable radio.

Buisset: We have just a little battery powered one here, but there are ones that actually have a crank on it.

Emergency management agencies joined dozens of other groups at the Science Museum for a day-long festival called PrepareAthon. There were plenty of experts on hand to educate families about staying safe during and after disasters and extreme weather.  But the event also featured workshops, demonstrations and talks examining aspects of resiliency. Participants could make a rain barrel, learn about solar power and how to make your home more efficient. At one table, kids stacked containers of pebbles, moss, sand and cotton balls and volunteers showed them how the materials can be used to filter dirty water.

PrepareAthon is part of a multi-year grant from the Science Museum received from the federal agency NOAA to expand education about community resilience. Eugene Maurakis is the Museum’s Staff Scientist.

Eugene Maurakis: The climate is changing and so here in middle Virginia we are experiencing more extremes in climate and weather, so we get more droughts more frequently, we get heavier rains and snow storms more frequently, so these are all extreme events and how to be prepared for them when they occur.

Virginia has been taking steps to become more resilient. Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran is the state’s first Chief Resilience Officer. A bipartisan commission on Climate Change and Resiliency issued five recommendations last December. They included creating a Climate Change and Resilience Resource Center and a New Virginia Bank for Energy and Resilience. And there’s a lot happening in Hampton Roads. Old Dominion University has a “Resilience Collaborative” to engage faculty on research related to sea level rise and adaptation. ODU also led the effort to get a $120 million grant from the National Disaster Resilience Competition.

Annette Osso: Resiliency is a big umbrella, it has a lot of elements under it.

Annette Osso is managing director of Resilient Virginia, a nonprofit that emerged in 2014 out of the long-running Virginia Sustainable Building Network. She says preparedness is one part of resiliency. So is sustainability, like initiatives that cut down on waste and greenhouse gas emissions. A third area is adaptation, which Osso says includes the longer-term decisions many coastal communities, like Hampton Roads, are dealing with now.

Osso: For the long-term you’re going to have to change how you’re using your waterfront, unfortunately will have to change, and how you’re building your buildings.

Infrastructure will need to be adapted too, she says. Things like rail and roads, solid waste and water treatment plants.

Osso: That’s a huge thing that has to really be dealt with, it’s a much longer term process to address those things. That’s at the big level. Ultimately the neighborhoods that will be impacted will have to be looked at, zoning will have to be changed, building codes will have to be modified.

Resilient Virginia partners with local governments, academic institutions, businesses and community groups to “accelerate resiliency planning.” Informing the public about the impact of climate change is a key goal, so more understand what steps are needed to make a community more resilient.

Osso: It’s this whole process of awareness building because ultimately when it comes to the city council for a vote, something will come up, whether it’s funding, whether it’s changing the comprehensive plan, zoning and changing where you can develop. All that impacts not only  citizens but the businesses there and you want to have the buy in with the understanding, why are we doing this? Why are we going down this road? Why do we have to change what we have been doing?

Places like Hampton Roads and Tangier Island are in the spotlight when it comes to threats from climate change. But Osso says rural areas in the Southwest need resiliency plans too, especially with the impact of climate variability on agriculture, the largest sector of Virginia’s economy.

Osso: Agricultural folks here have made a point of saying this to me, “Don’t leave us out of this conversation.” You have communities that are somewhat hard pressed economically anyway, so the really important part of resiliency for them is make sure there is work being done to boost the importance and the markets of say smaller farms, particularly which have some economic difficulties. Why? Because we want to have food growing, resources near us, near the cities. Really, there’s this interdependence there.

Osso says everyone has a role to play in making Virginia more resilient. A checklist her organization developed for families has resources on emergency preparedness, living a sustainable lifestyle and adaptation strategies - like growing your own food and making your home as “hazard ready” as possible.

Osso: This building of resiliency in the face of what we potentially are facing in the future, very important. My family looks at what does that mean for us and it goes on from there to what is our community doing.

Resilient Virginia also has a guide for local governments, developed in partnership with the Go Green Virginia initiative. For Virginia Currents, I’m Catherine Komp, WCVE News.