Letter: Six Foundations of Community Resilience

from Dr. David Dow of East Falmouth

Letter to the Editor:

Six Foundations of Community Resilience

I recently participated in a webinar that featured speakers from the Post Carbon Institute that discussed their six foundations for “community resilience”.  There is a dialog ongoing here on Cape Cod on climate change; extreme weather events; emergency responses and bouncing back from these disruptions to our socioeconomic system and natural environment.  The recent Northeasters have shown Cape Cod residents that we are vulnerable to power outages; wind damage to homes and downed tress; flooding of coastal areas which damages infrastructure and leads to erosion of beaches and dunes.

The webinar included discussion of both climate change and water challenges (drinking; waste and storm water within coastal watersheds).  The Post Carbon Institute process for addressing “community resilience” includes: people;  systems thinking; adaptability; transformability; sustainability and courage.  They identify four intertwined crisis that communities face: ecological; energy; economic and equity.  As somebody concerned about “environmental justice” I was especially interested in the latter component, since our less affluent residents often face large impacts on their life styles during natural or manmade disasters. Interested people can go online to read the Post Carbon Institutue concept paper which converts these theoretical ideas into on the ground action plans.

 During Blizzard Nemo I had to evacuate to the Falmouth High School  which was jammed full of poor people and seniors (some with serious medical problems).  Many people wouldn’t evacuate their homes without electricity unless they could take their pets.  There was space at the emergency shelter for pets.  Because of generator failures in Bourne and Sandwich  emergency shelters, some of these home evacuees were at Falmouth HS. I had to evacuate my house because trees fell down blocking the snow plow turn around area and my power was lost for 2.5 days (even though we have underground utilities).  Other  homes lost power for much longer periods and the occupants were taken in by friends and neighbors. 

Even though myself and my neighbors had to remove 16 inches of snow by our self from our driveways and street to connect to the area reached by the snow plow, the town eventually  cut up the tree blocking the snow plow turn around area.  In the recent Northeasters downed trees blocked roads and took down power lines which were addressed by Eversource and town Public Works departments.  I feel that our emergency response system needs to acknowledge the importance of  volunteers and neighbors in helping out those at risk from losing power for extended periods and lacking ways to communicate their problems/need for help.  This was why I was impressed by the six foundations approach which is focused on people and the need to develop innovative grassroots solutions for natural disasters. In the longer term we need to move towards greater environmental; social and economic sustainability which could make us less susceptible to disruptions.

This might include greater use of solar panels and wind energy to provide renewable energy locally; underground utilities less prone to extreme weather events; smarter grid that could use offshore wind farm energy locally; moving key infrastructure subject to flooding back from the coasts; addressing rising insurance rates for homeowners  (FAIR system inland and Community Rating System within 100 year flood zone which lowers insurance rates in exchange for climate adaptation action); etc.  Cape Cod faces expensive challenges to eliminate nitrogen loading from septic systems which impact water quality and wildlife habitat in coastal embayments; toxic chemicals in our drinking water (perfluorinated chemicals; 1,2- dioxane; perchlorate; lead; etc.) and wastewater treatment plant effluent and excess sludge disposal which contain contaminants of emerging concern.  We  face stormwater issues from heavy rains and melting snow which overwhelm our drainage systems in developments and floods roads.

I certainly don’t have the answers for how we should address these problems on Cape Cod, but the six foundations for community resilience dialog offers a place to start in combining volunteer endeavors and paid community responders to develop a more holistic responses during disasters and in the following ecovery process.  In the longer term is we need to become more sustainable in our energy usage and water protection systems we will be better prepared to address natural and manmade disasters. I spent 20 years working on the Superfund/Safe Drinking Water Act Cleanup at Joint Base Cape Cod and learned that preventing pollution is easier/cheaper than cleaning it up after it becomes diluted in our air, water and soil.

Dr. David Dow

East Falmouth, Ma.

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