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Opening Remarks at Economics of Community Disaster Resilience Workshop

Good morning, and welcome to the Economics of Community Disaster Resilience Workshop. 

Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedules to participate and provide your insights and experience to help make the business case for making investments in making a community more resilient. 

You don't have to search far and wide for reasons to be here. Last year, wildfires scorched Southern California and Washington, and Napa was rocked by an earthquake. In fact, there were 45 major disaster declarations last year. 

And 2014 was a relatively quiet year, at least in terms of raw numbers. In fact, the last time there were fewer than 50 major disaster declarations was 2002. And since 2002, the U.S. has endured seven of the 10 most costly disasters in its history, with Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy at the top of the list. 

And as we look ahead, we know that the disaster risks will only increase. Recent studies have warned of increased coastal flooding, mega-droughts, and Katrina-scale storms blasting the Northeast, just to name a few of the predicted impacts of climate change. 

So, achieving disaster resilience should be a top priority for the nation, states, businesses, citizens, and, especially, communities

Communities—where we live, work, raise families—are the necessary focal point. Communities are "ground zero" when a hazard event strikes. And communities bear the brunt of recovery, which can span many years. 

But communities also bear the responsibility to become more resilient so that random, yet almost inevitable hazards do not become disasters. They are challenged to be proactive—to take steps so that they can better withstand, adapt, and recover quickly when nature throws a violent punch or when they are assailed by human-caused catastrophe. 

But what steps? And how and when should communities take them? What are the priorities? What's the business case? 

Well, that's why you're here—and that's why NIST has undertaken this collaborative, nationwide effort to develop a comprehensive, science-based approach to community disaster resilience. 

Communities want actionable information and guidance to support their decision making and their investments in resilience. 

With reliable information, methods, and tools, communities can assess their strengths and their vulnerabilities. They can identify their blind spots. And they can develop an integrated view of what resilience looks like so that all the key players will be involved in helping to make it a reality. 

Now nobody disagrees—I hope—that disaster resilience is important. In fact, resilience has become somewhat of a buzzword and catch-all term. In a recent letter to the journal Nature, which was prompted by an article on flood resilience, the writer claimed that there are over 70 different definitions of resilience in the scientific literature. 

While I agree that consistent terminology is important, I think we have a strong and building consensus on the key points to begin operationalizing the goal of community disaster resilience

On Monday, we released for public comment a draft of the Community Resilience Planning Guide for Buildings and Infrastructure. The economic guidance document and decision support methodology being developed by our Applied Economic Office is designed to fit "hand-in-glove" with the planning guide. 

The planning guide is intended to be a customizable tool, one that a town or city can apply to better understand their own circumstances, define their particular risks, and set their own priorities and timetables for implementation. 

Clearly, the time to plan for hazards is not after disaster strikes. Regrettably, that is still largely how we do it now—during recovery. Sometimes, communities build back better, reduce their vulnerability, and improve their capacity to recover quickly and efficiently when the next hazard strikes. 

Communities are ready for a new approach that reduces damage levels and speeds recovery. Resilience planning and implementation really should be done proactively—in anticipation of the next extreme event. After all, we live in what already is one of the most natural-disaster-prone regions in the world. And climate change will more than likely add to this worrisome distinction. 

Our challenge is to clear and mark the path that leads to the goal of reducing the impacts of hazard events on our society and economy by enhancing the resilience of buildings and infrastructure systems in our communities. To do this, it is necessary to shift our thinking from the old way—designing and operating buildings and infrastructure as independent systems—to a new way, as an integrated system-of-systems

We also must interweave resilience planning into a community's social and economic systems, since they are supported by the physical infrastructure and the vital services it enables. Providing communities with guidance to avoid disastrous consequences can make a tremendously positive difference. Helping communities to make resilience an integral part of their long-term planning and development is an incredible two-for-one deal. It not only will increase resilience to disruptive events and reduce their enormous toll on people and the economy; it also will make our communities better places to live and more desirable locations for business and industry. 

As many of you know, NIST's efforts are part of a much larger federal effort to enhance the resilience of our communities, and by extension, the resilience of the Nation to the hazards we face. 

The Department of Commerce, of which NIST is a part, has made resilience a key element of its strategic plan. Many parts of the department are engaged in efforts to improve the resilience of our communities and the nation. 

The NIST resilience program is a part of—and contributes to—interagency efforts to prepare the Nation for the effects of a changing climate, as documented in the President's Climate Action Plan. 

The efforts I have just described are only a part of NIST's commitment to improving the resilience of our Nation's communities. 

One important source of new knowledge and modeling capabilities will be the new NIST-funded Community Resilience Center of Excellence, based at Colorado State University. Working with NIST researchers and partners from 10 other universities, the center will develop models and computer tools to support community resilience efforts. 

The objective of this workshop is to bring together decision makers, community planners, policy makers, and subject matter experts in economics, engineering, insurance, finance, and risk analysis to address the economics of disaster resilience. 

My hope is that this workshop will go a long way towards enabling NIST—and the nation—to identify economics-based opportunities and tools and levers to support decision making in communities more disaster resilient. 

So, thank you again for coming and for sharing your ideas. I look forward to a productive workshop. 

Let's get to work!


Created July 1, 2015, Updated October 1, 2016