For coastal communities, “resilience” is the ability to prepare, respond and recover from disasters. Over the last decade, the Gulf Coast has experienced both natural and technological disasters. In either case, a community needs to know how resilient it is or can be. It needs to assess challenges in a nonjudgemental way and to identify things the community does well or would like to do better.
The Coastal Resilience Index, or the CRI, is a tool communities can use to examine the many elements that increase resilience. A large team of dedicated professionals guided by Gulf of Mexico Sea Grant Programs, the Gulf of Mexico Alliance and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration developed the CRI. Cities in all five Gulf States have tested and refined the tool.
Coastal communities are not handed the CRI and told to go at it without help. Gulf Sea Grant Programs trained qualified partners to assist cities in conducting the CRI and follow-up actions identified in the process.
How does the CRI process work? The CRI process begins when a community works with a trained facilitator to identify a team of community leaders from local government, emergency management, utilities, area businesses, civic organizations and church groups. Since response and recovery involve the entire community, leaders from many facets of community life are included in the CRI team. The team meets with the facilitator and assesses resilience based on six categories in the CRI:
- Critical facilities
- Community planning
- Measures already taken to reduce damage
- Business plans
- Social networks
The team examines how different elements of the six categories survived the worst storm in recent memory and would fare in a future storm that is even worse. The team assesses elements like the effects of flooding n evacuation routes, downed trees on roads and power outages in key areas from City Hall to the local hospital. They answer questions about the preparedness of businesses and the speed at which they can resume operation.
The CRI includes questions about integration of faith-based groups in recovery and about communication with non-English speaking populations. At the end of the assessment, a score is calculated. Typically, results are revisited about a year later to assess any additional needs. Regardless of the resilience score, communities can address identified challenges through partnerships, training, education, and other assistance.
In response to their CRI assessment, communities have improved critical records storage, tree removal plans and generator maintenance programs. Communities have explored entering the Community Rating System, a program that can help residents save money on flood insurance. A Florida community developed a survey for local businesses to assess their resilience and help them create disaster plans. Communities in Mississippi and Alabama have collaborated with the Institute of Sustainable Communities to identify better ways to plan for disasters and to communicate with their residents. A team of qualified CI facilitators under the leadership of Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium exists to serve the assessment needs of communities along the northern Gulf Coast. CRI is a reliable, easy-to-use tool for assessing resilience to coastal disasters. It helps identify not only challenges, but also opportunities to be better prepared and able to respond.
*Mike Shelton is the training and watershed program coordinator for the Weeks Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, State Lands Division.*