Brad Sinkaus
Three Keys to Unlocking Urban Resilience
Brad SinkausJanuary 28, 2015

shutterstock_57373669Superstorm Sandy’s devastation in New York and New Jersey was a wake-up call for many metropolitan regions around the United States on the importance of building infrastructure resilience. Disruptions such as natural disasters, cyber attacks, and the effects of climate change are an inevitability that must be addressed by “baking” resilience in to the roads, computer networks, bridges, and other structures that make up our nation’s critical infrastructures.

While federal policies are fundamental to enacting this type of widespread change, disasters happen at the local level, within cities and regions that must individually build resilience. With the world’s urban population projected to increase from 3.4 billion people in 2009 to 6.4 billion people by 2050, it is essential that our nation’s cities begin safeguarding their critical infrastructures now.

Leading the way is 100 Resilient Cities, a non-profit organization that was developed to help cities around the world initiate polices and develop partnerships to bolster municipal resilience. Sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation, the non-profit provides member cities with financial support, technical guidance, and logistical information in order to build a resilience strategy that best suits them.

To date, the efforts that 100 Resilient Cities has undertaken illustrate three major ways in which cities can work to build infrastructure resilience:

Develop Public-Private Partnerships: One of the core tenets of the 2013 National Infrastructure Protection Plan emphasizes the value of public-private partnerships in building resilience. By leveraging the expertise of government, private-sector, and nonprofit actors, public-private partnerships ensure all voices are heard while facilitating collaboration. 100 Resilient Cities has exemplified this core tenet in its Platform of Partners, where member companies offer their expertise to cities in areas that promote resilience. For example, Microsoft announced last week that it has partnered with 100 Resilient Cities in order to educate cities on cyber security by leading workshops for multiple cities over a period of time to share what the company has learned from operating some the world’s largest data centers.

Establish Executive Leadership: To ensure that cities have the ability to dedicate focus to resilience, 100 Resilient Cities has provided municipal governments with the funding they need to instill a Chief Resilience Officer (CRO). The CRO is required to focus on baking resilience in to municipal projects, so that all projects serve multiple purposes. According to the organization’s Communications Director Max Young, this means that “a new road wouldn’t be just a road, it would be an elevated road that serves as a flood barrier, is well lit for public safety, connects a neighborhood with poor access to health care with one with good access, etc.” So far, U.S. cities such as San Francisco, New Orleans, and Norfolk, VA have inaugurated their first CRO.

Implement Innovative Technology: The National Infrastructure Advisory Council’s 2013 report on regional resilience highlighted the effectiveness of social media in emergency management during crises like the Boston Marathon Bombing and the 2013 Oklahoma tornadoes. When leveraged correctly, social media can be a powerful tool to communicate with citizens, map specific locations, and facilitate any necessary action during an unexpected event. The 100 Resilient Cities blog consistently features ways in which social media has become an effective apparatus for mitigating the effects of an unexpected event. For example, a recent post highlighted the ways in which Twitter can help locate victims following a natural disaster.

As I finish writing this post, winter storm Juno has just struck the northeastern United States, dropping multiple feet of snow on Boston’s major metropolitan region. Events like this combined with growing urban populations and aging infrastructure increase the urgency of implementing innovative ways to sustain city infrastructure and promote resilience. As Nexight CEO Jack Eisenhauer wrote in a recent blog post, “Simply put, we must look beyond the last storm to guide decisions that will lead to long-term national resilience. We all share the risks of infrastructure disruptions and the solutions for achieving resilience are complex.”