Economic Development Research Group Blog

Resilience Economics in Action: The Example of US-101 in California

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Many MPO’s and state DOT’s are beginning to assess not only their vulnerability to transportation system failures caused by natural disasters and weather-related events, but also the wider economic consequences of potential future infrastructure system failures.  As such events may increase in frequency with aging facilities and climate change, understanding the economic consequences of these events should be at the core of any resiliency analysis.  To address this issue, two fundamental questions need to be considered: What are the economic consequences of failures in a transportation system caused by weather or other natural disaster events? What cost-effective transportation solutions can best avoid, mitigate, or quickly respond to these potential failures? Quantifying the scale of economic losses due to a disruption in the transportation system highlights how much of the economy is exposed to natural or weather-related disasters.  This assessment can be used as a benchmark to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of various...
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The Missing Link in Resilience Planning (Resilience Series - Part 3)

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Growing up in the Swiss Alps, the natural hazard I was most aware of as a child was avalanches. My village was especially exposed to this risk. When the road to access the villages in the valley was improved by partly covering it with avalanche sheds, this was regarded as a huge step towards reducing the number of days in winter during which the villages were cut off from the outside world. However, something in the planning process must have gone wrong: The avalanches still tended to bury the road with snow where it had not been protected by sheds. Obviously, while some segments of the road had been made resilient, the road as a whole, with its unprotected segments, was still vulnerable. Traffic engineers know that capacity improvements on a highway can only work as far as adjacent intersections also allow for a higher throughput. The network’s weakest link determines...
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Household Vulnerability and Resilience Assessment (Resiliency Series-Part 2)

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Katrina . . . Wilma . . . Irene . . . Matthew . . . Harvey . . . Great Smokey’s Fire . . . Mendocino . . . Sandy . . . Maria . . . Irma . . . Camp Fire . . . Michael These are just some of the “named” events that have brought wide-spread damage to U.S. infrastructure and households since 2005. And this does not begin to cover the floods, wildfires, earthquakes and other “un-named” natural disasters that have befallen the U.S. in the past 14 years. From 2005 through June of 2017, 212 major natural disasters in the US produced $1.2 trillion in directly related damage and 9,680 deaths ( Washington Post, October 20, 2017 ). This does not even consider the events of 2018. With this as background, the Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4) of 2018 points in the direction of even...
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Investing in Climate Resilient Cities (Resiliency Series-Part 1)

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About 85% of the U.S. population lived in cities in 2015 (Census FactFinder). These urbanites are subject to unique impacts of climate change, as highlighted by the Fourth National Climate Assessment , released in November 2018. The Climate Assessment provides an update on indicators of climate change, including rising average global temperatures, extreme high temperature events, and more frequent heavy precipitation. The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season was record-breaking with four high-intensity hurricanes (Harvey, Irma, Jose, and Maria). And rainfall associated with hurricanes in the Atlantic and eastern North Pacific is predicted to increase due to warmer temperatures. Some studies predict increased frequency and severity of thunderstorms across the United States. At the same time, sea level rise increases coastal flooding risks from weather events. More extreme and rising temperatures mean that in addition to flooding, drought and associated wildfires have also occurred in recent years, including the 2011-2017 California drought. City...
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Resilience: Beyond the Buzzword

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This fall, Hurricanes Florence and Michael presented a story that is sadly familiar. Disaster strikes, the waters recede and reveal the damage. A national conversation on resilience ensues. Will we be prepared next time? Can we be stronger than the storm? In adapting our infrastructure for a changed climate, the impetus for action is clear. However, translating resilience from buzzword to action is a generational challenge for planners. Understanding the history and meaning of the concept is a good place to start. Here goes. Resilience is not new. The Ancient Romans, for example, were very concerned with protecting their critical infrastructure: military roads, agricultural stores, aqueducts. The earliest Roman aqueducts were built underground to protect them from erosion and military attack. Like the barbed-wire fences surrounding modern airports, Emperors forbade planting and, presumably, loitering near their monumental works. Like ancient civilizations, we put systems in place to protect our critical infrastructure....
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Resilience and Social Equity

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Resilience has emerged as a significant consideration in developing long-term transportation plans in response to US DOT’s Climate Change and Resiliency initiatives.  The focus has been on hardening existing and planned infrastructure and assessing risks and recovery for key elements of the transportation system.  These efforts have focused on facility and human vulnerabilities, and on operational recovery.  However, as we have seen repeatedly, identifying “vulnerability” and assessing resilience and recovery for populations often ignores the unique needs, resource deficits and challenges faced by low-income and minority populations.    These issues are reminiscent of the debates about environmental equity of 25 years ago that led up to the issuance of Executive Order 12898 on Environmental Justice. [1]   The disproportionate effects of lack of preparedness and recovery from natural and man-made disasters are just as profound (and potentially more-so) as those arising from deliberate investment decisions made by government agencies and sources of...
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