Early Lessons from Resilience Assessments

This post was written by Climate Programs Intern Valerie Weiner, Tufts University, Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning ’19

The 30 available Resilience Assessments display the immense resourcefulness of educational institutions. Resilience can be difficult to conceptualize; one method many schools and universities take is to approach it in strides. Almost all start with ‘Initial Steps’ that are attainable in the short term, like surveys, community engagement activities or building partnerships. Long-term investment such as sustainable infrastructure development is more complicated and can build off of initial steps. For institutions overwhelmed by resilience, short-term steps are a great place to start. In order to manifest these steps, the schools first identified their strengths.

Identifying Strengths

A few common strengths were emphasized throughout all the plans. Community engagement and campus-community partnerships were commonly noted resources. Strong partnerships such as these make resilience planning substantially easier to implement. Schools also mentioned pre-existing sustainable infrastructure as a resource, as some already own hybrid buses or seismically safe buildings in preparation for natural disaster. Location and natural resources were also seen as a strength for schools. Benefits like high elevation or access to green space give schools a natural advantage in achieving resilience. Recognizing these strengths accumulates an inventory of the available resources and empowers schools to actualize the plan.

Building Upon Strengths: Initial Steps to Increase Resilience

The next step for many schools was to translate these strengths into ‘Initial Steps.’ Allegheny College, for example, identified community engagement and participation as a strength. One of their initial steps is a community health needs assessment. This is an achievable task considering the community’s existing engagement level. Central Community College also mentioned they have a strong trail system and parks easily accessible around the school grounds; they plan to take advantage by advancing their complete streets policy and encouraging residents to walk and bike. It is pertinent for schools to take advantage of their existing resources in the implementation process because it is presumably cheaper and more efficient.

Leveraging Students, Faculty, and Research Capacity

Schools also recognized the value of their own resources, like professors, students, and research labs, in conceptualizing their initial steps. For example, Western Technical College’s ethos and dedication to sustainability will be used in to increase the number of sustainability related course offerings. This will hopefully create a positive feedback loop of engaged students who are interested in furthering the school’s resilience plan. Portland State University also identifies their internal research faculty as resources to enact their initial step of compiling all appropriate data and synthesizing existing work. Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) similarly plans to use their own RIT Collaboratory for Resiliency and Recovery to continue research on energy storage and renewable energy generation.

Local Partnerships

Noted resources also included partnerships with local cities and towns. Wells College operates the drinking water plant for the college and the Village of Aurora, their host town. Through this partnership, Wells College aims to address the harmful algal bloom epidemic in their area. The school is working with the Department of Health, Cayuga County Offices, and New York Governor’s Office, and state and federal legislators for funding to continue this work. They have also already commissioned a study to determine the equipment needed to address the toxins. Wells College is a great example of how to further campus resilience planning goals, as well as community goals, through partnerships with local government agencies. Another example comes from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). UIC has a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the UIC School of Public Health and the City of Chicago Health Department. This has been so successful that they aim to expand the program and enter into more MOUs for specifically sharing emergency response equipment with other agencies. MOUs are a great method of ensuring community buy-in and access to resources, which are critical components of implementation.

Resources and Tools Used in Assessment

Over half of the institutions noted the Nature Conservancy Community Resilience Building Workshop as a helpful resource for the assessment process. The second most noted resources were the City Resilience Index and the United States Climate Resilience Toolkit Framework. Beyond that, schools mentioned using their own or their home city’s resources to help with their assessment process. This can include internal professors or research, city officials, the chamber of commerce or community outreach.

Combined with schools’ identified strengths and initial steps, these tools show that the community is a great place to start implementation of a Resilience Plan. If there is community buy-in, passionate professors, engaged students, or invested city officials, educational institutions are already rich with opportunity. After all, these are Resilience Plans for the campus and the community. The strength of these 30 plans is that many recognize the interdependence of the two, and that the more resourceful schools are in taking advantage of their local resources, the more resilient everyone will be.