Community Resilience Building with Eastern Connecticut State University

One of the questions we hear most from schools that are beginning implementation of the Climate or Resilience Commitment is: what does it mean to work with my community? The Commitments ask signatories to reach beyond the campus boundary and build climate resilience with the surrounding neighborhood, town, or city. The first step in doing so is to complete a campus-community resilience assessment.

ECSU President Nuñez talks with participants from Windham.

In March, we worked with Eastern Connecticut State University, the Town of Windham Connecticut, and The Nature Conservancy to pilot a climate resilience workshop. We used the Community Resilience Building guide, a resource designed by The Nature Conservancy. The guide outlines steps involved in planning and facilitating a resilience focused workshop, including ideas for which stakeholders to invite, how to identify assets and vulnerabilities, and prioritizing action.

Eastern Connecticut hosted the workshop and after a welcome address from President Elsa Nuñez, participants split up into three groups to assess climate hazards, strengths, and weaknesses of both the campus and community. Attendees included faculty, sustainability staff, students, and campus safety staff from the University, along with the fire chief, police chief, and the town planner from Windham, CT.

After a half-day of working, each group had completed a Risk Matrix outlining top climate hazards facing the campus and community, as well as infrastructure, societal, and environmental features that could serve as strengths or weaknesses. From there, the groups identified actions that could improve resilience and categorized each as high or low priority in a short or long timeframe. It was a lot to accomplish is just a few hours, and a great way to start the conversation around climate resilience!

Examples of completed risk matrices from the workshop.

This was my first time attending a Community Resilience Building workshop, and I found it to be a productive way to initiate the campus-community climate resilience assessment. While more work is needed to fully assess climate vulnerabilities and develop an action plan for a sustainable future, the workshop convened key stakeholders and identified specific areas to focus on. For example, participants highlighted flooding, storms, and heat/drought as top climate threats. Identified actions to increase resilience included:

  • Improving the ability of the town to maintain the stormwater system. This requires securing a dedicated truck to routinely clean culverts, storm drains, and drainage ways, and conducting a Green Infrastructure opportunity assessment to see where runoff could be captured prior to entering the system. (High priority, short term)
  • Integrating various energy systems into a comprehensive energy management plan, including both the Campus and the Town of Windham. (High priority, short term)
  • Supporting cultural diversity in the town by ensuring that emergency communications are in languages besides English, and that important messages and directions reach all populations. (High priority, short term)
  • Enhancing the riparian corridor to maximize the flood storage capacity of the Willimantic River. This includes improving the overall ecological condition by removing debris, obstacles, and invasives followed by restoration or enhancement where needed. (Medium priority, short to long term)
  • Ensuring local trail systems are maintained and encouraged by the Town and the University to help stimulate active lifestyles as a means towards a more healthy and resilient population. (Low priority, long term)

I was impressed by the breadth of actions identified by participants. The conversations covered aspects of resilience ranging from social demographics to physical infrastructure to ecosystem services. It was also interesting to see how the stakeholders from the University and Town interacted. Everyone brought different perspectives to the table, which for the most part complemented each other. I look forward to seeing the next steps from Eastern Connecticut and the Town of Windham as they continue to work together.

Read more about the workshop and outcomes in the Summary of Findings. Second Nature is also hosting a webinar on June 6th to discuss this workshop in more detail. You can register here.

Top Photo Courtesy of Eastern Connecticut State University