The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) and the National Association of Regional Councils (NARC) held a briefing to discuss climate/weather risks to America's coastal communities and the types of resilience plans local governments and regional partnerships are developing to safeguard their residents, built assets, and economies. The briefing explored current and future infrastructure challenges facing public officials and how the federal government fits into the pursuit of these shared development goals.


Nichole Hefty, Deputy Chief Resilience Officer, Regulatory & Economic Resources Dept., Miami-Dade County, FL

  • Southeast Florida is experiencing fluctuating, unpredictable precipitation patterns, more extreme weather, sea level rise, and more frequent King Tides, or very high tides that flood streets even on sunny days and cause coastal erosion. Extreme weather is having a negative effect on agriculture, tourism and coastal infrastructure. Hefty noted that Southeast Florida’s sole source of drinking water is a shallow Biscayne aquifer that is connected to the ocean. Therefore, as sea levels rise, the aquifer's water faces saltwater intrusion.
  • Florida benefits from tremendous academic resources. Scientists are studying climate change impacts and gathering climate data, which can help to predict and anticipate King Tides and enable Florida to warn communities ahead of time.
  • Hurricane Andrew was a big game changer in Southeast Florida. It led to stronger building codes and a local mitigation strategy. Projects have been placed on a list and funding, when it becomes available, is prioritized for the most urgent projects.
  • In 2010, four counties, Monroe, Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach, adopted the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact, which was an agreement to work collaboratively as a region on climate mitigation and adaptation issues because it was clear that these issues and impacts did not stop at county lines. They identified four focus areas:
    • Strengthen infrastructure. Agencies were asked to inventory infrastructure assets. Out of hundreds of assets, 154 were selected as priorities.
    • Build resilient communities.
    • Insurance.
    • Protect and enhance natural resources.
  • The four counties agreed to develop a regional climate action plan and to come together on an annual basis to discuss their progress and next steps. In addition, the counties developed a unified sea level rise projection, which allowed them to have a standard measurement.
  • Thanks to relationships developed through the Regional Climate Change Compact, Miami-Dade County with the cities of Miami and Miami Beach became eligible to apply for the Rockefeller Foundation's 100 Resilient Cities competition as a combined entity. They were selected, which affords access to funding and technical resources, and were asked to identify their top shocks and stresses. In addition to issues associated with sea level rise, they identified:
    • The lack of affordable housing
    • Poverty
    • Inadequate transportation
    • Public health concerns


Steve Walz, Director, Dept. of Environmental Programs, Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments

  • Coastal areas are not just located along coastlines and oceans. Washington, D.C., is a coastal area, faced with tidal flooding in the Southwest Waterfront and the Potomac River (in addition to storm surge and riverine flooding). Washington, D.C., has been working on adaptation measures, such as developing flood control projects on the streams that feed into the Potomac River.
  • Walz and his team have looked at infrastructure vulnerability, including transportation, energy, water, and communications and the connections between these sectors. They have also looked at community vulnerability, to ensure that residents would be able to shelter themselves.
  • Washington, D.C., put out the Climate Ready DC Plan, a very comprehensive plan that is integrated into the work of every D.C. department. The plan talks about the risks the various departments face and what types of actions they need to put in place.
  • Actions that have already taken place in the region include building levies in Huntington, south of Alexandria, VA. In Washington, D.C., the Army Corps is building a 500-year flood wall for the D.C. water treatment plant.
  • Washington, D.C., was selected as one of the 100 Resilient Cities and it now has a chief resilience officer and a deputy chief resilience officer.
  • Walz and his team are working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on a multi-year, multi-million dollar coastal flood risk assessment, to look at what pieces of critical infrastructure would be flooded under what types of storms.
  • We should determine what sectors we want to focus on, work hard on these sectors, and look at what impacts to address.
  • We have to define our risk tolerance, and that is something that really needs to be done at a regional level. And we have to gather feedback ("think regional and multi-stakeholder") and communicate information to the public.
  • There are many new challenges and vulnerabilities to consider:
    • DC and Baltimore are merging as one big metro area
    • Models are predicting many more heat emergency days and more drought
    • The Potomac River is the area's single source of drinking water
    • Higher winds will affect construction
    • Worsening air quality


Mark Wilbert, Chief Resilience Officer, City of Charleston, SC

  • Charleston is a city with a flooding problem. It has had 1,000-year rain and tidal flooding, and it has raised its tide gauge four times already. In 2015, the city released its Sea Level strategy which began its “resilience journey.” Adaptation/resilience to flooding is the number one priority for its mayor this year. He wants to build a city that can protect its historic and cultural treasures.
  • Wilbert noted that resilience is about economics. Charleston's port brings in $53 billion in economic activity and 200,000 jobs to the city. Resilience is also about protecting people as they carry on with their daily lives.
  • In 2014, Charleston released a sea level rise strategy, which defined and explained the problems and laid out guiding principles (“be ready, respond, and reinvest”).
  • Charleston has learned five lessons about climate resilience (Pathways to Resilience):
    • First, land use. Land use is the most important issue. It's critical to get the land use strategy right and make sure one only builds buildings where it makes sense to build buildings.
    • Second, regulations. One must get together with smart engineers and scientists and look at where the regulations really need to be. The National Flood Insurance Program is a great program, but it's ripe for reform.
    • Third, resources. Charleston has committed $8 to $12 million a year to flooding and drainage issues, which is a large amount of money for Charleston. It is looking at the use of hospitality taxes/tourism to help fund flood protection. But small cities have a capacity/skills gap.
    • Fourth, outreach. If you don’t tell people what you're doing, you will be answering questions all the way. You need to get down to the personal level and meet with people; learn about their concerns and experiences.
    • Fifth, infrastructure. Infrastructure is hard and expensive. How we get that money really matters and how we apply it and put it to work really matters.


Jeremy Marcus, Deputy Chief of Staff and Legislative Director, Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-PA)

  • In 2013, the Government Accountability Office (GAO)'s High-Risk List included extreme weather for the first time and since then it has been part of the list, which comes out every two years.
  • Rep. Cartwright worked with the GAO and outside groups to put together the PREPARE Act. The act basically does three things. First, it creates an interagency Council that will look at preparedness at the federal level, government-wide. Second, it directs each agency to prepare climate adaptation plans to make sure that they can accomplish their missions while dealing with the new challenges from extreme weather. Third, it encourages regional planning, so that each region has a plan to become more resilient and prepare for extreme weather events.


According to the Third National Climate Assessment, nearly five million people in the coastal United States live within four feet of their local high-tide level. Meanwhile, global sea levels are expected to rise by up to 6.6 feet by 2100 compared to 1992 measurements. Extreme weather events are already threatening coastal residents today, underscored by the devastating string of hurricanes that struck Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands this past year. City managers are increasingly being tasked with rebuilding and strengthening essential infrastructure in a cost-effective and resilient way, so that communities can better withstand future disasters.

Nichole Hefty was a member of the core team responsible for the development of Miami-Dade County’s community-wide Sustainability Plan, and now serves as the Deputy Resilience Officer for the County.  Over the years, she has worked in environmental compliance as well as aligning county-level climate change mitigation and adaptation initiatives with regional, state, and federal resources and priorities.

Mark Wilbert took on the role of Chief Resilience Officer for Charleston in 2017 after serving as the city's Emergency Manager for four years. Mr. Wilbert previously served on active duty in the United States Coast Guard for more than 30 years, retiring at the rank of Captain. His experience includes the planning and management of numerous large-scale operations, including the Coast Guard’s response to the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.

Steve Walz spent more than 30 years with the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy and has been a key advisor on energy and environmental issues to numerous elected officials at the local, state, and federal levels. He was the department's director and an energy policy advisor to Gov. Tim Kaine. Mr. Walz is also the former Director of Regional Energy Planning for the Northern Virginia Regional Commission.


This briefing was the fifth in a series on "Building Resilient and Secure Infrastructure" presented in partnership with the National Association of State Energy Officials (NASEO).