The Environmental and Energy Study Institute and the Center for Climate and Security held a briefing on the relationship between military facilities and their neighboring civilian communities, and on the urgent need to make their shared infrastructure more resilient to natural disasters and other threats. Our panel of experts examined holistic approaches to protecting and maintaining supply chains, housing, transportation, utilities, and other fixtures necessary for communities to thrive and for military installations to maintain mission readiness. The briefing also explored regional examples of these challenges and how local governments and Department of Defense (DOD) officials are working together to devise solutions.




Susan Wickwire, Vice President, Henry M Jackson Foundation

  • Senator Henry M. Jackson cared deeply about protecting the environment and supporting a strong defense. He prioritized working "across the aisle." The Henry M Jackson Foundation, created following his death in 1983, continues to advance his goals.
  • The Foundation is focused on looking for informed, bipartisan policy solutions.
  • Both Democratic and Republican administrations over the past 15 years have agreed that climate change is a national security threat that multiplies existing threats.
  • The proposed Presidential Committee on Climate Security, spearheaded by the National Security Council, would likely call into question the government's own climate change science even though it is the result of years of peer-reviewed work. The Foundation is very concerned about such politicization of climate change research, which threatens to undermine the scientific process.


Rear Admiral Ann Phillips, Special Assistant to the Governor for Coastal Adaptation and Protection, State of Virginia, United States Navy (Ret); Former Commander, Expeditionary Strike Group TWO

  • Addressing the problem of climate change requires “clear-eyed, pragmatic focus.”
  • Coastal Virginia is in the grip of a slow-moving and relentless existential threat from rising waters and recurrent flooding caused by rain, wind, tides, storms, and any combination of those.” Coastal Virginia has the highest rate of sea level change on the East Coast due to the combination of rising sea levels and subsiding land. “This creates a serious and growing menace to our military, federal facilities, and community readiness, resilience, and therefore to our nation’s ability to prepare for and execute our national defense strategy.” Coastal military installations are at the front lines and are “a crucible for a range of challenges.”
  • RC 1701, Risk Quantification for Sustaining Coastal Military Installation Assets and Mission Capabilities—a report by the Department of Defense—concluded that “sea level rise is a significant and pervasive threat multiplier to mission sustainability … it dramatically increases risk to system capabilities and service provisioning and logistics.” The probability of losses increases dramatically at only 0.5 meters (1.6 feet) of sea level rise. The Virginia Institute of Marine Science assesses that we will experience that additional half meter of sea level rise on or around 2050.
  • Climate change is affecting our communities and military facilities’ ability to thrive and maintain mission readiness and resilience.
  • Adapting to climate change requires a whole-of-government and community approach to identify threats, evaluate risks, and properly plan for projected future circumstances.
  • An inter-governmental pilot project in Hampton Roads, VA, determined five key requirements for a whole-of-government approach to increasing Virginia’s resilience to sea level rise and natural hazards.
    1. Setting standards for state-owned built infrastructure and creating a coastal resilience master plan.
    2. Obtaining support from a consortium of universities, so that one has the best possible science, engineering, and data available at one's fingertips.
    3. Opening access and distribution of data to understand what is happening in the region and to recognize trends.
    4. Understanding and identifying dependencies and interdependencies of critical infrastructure systems.
    5. Working toward creative and collaborative funding outcomes and strategies, combining efforts at the federal, state, and local level.
  • Adaptation and resilience planning can not be done alone—“we must not make our federal facilities islands.” We must act on coordinated legislative support for our most vulnerable facilities. We must also look to the future, not the past, to determine our actions in risk assessment, planning, design, and implementation.


Ben McFarlane, AICP, CFM, Senior Regional Planner, Hampton Roads Planning District Commission

  • Impacted communities must be a part of planning.
  • Hampton Roads, in southeast Virginia, is home to exceptional defense infrastructure. All of it is under the threat of climate change. The civilian communities surrounding these bases are facing the same threats. The military must share information with the surrounding communities to plan adaptation and resiliency responses to climate change.
  • Challenges to resilience and adaptation planning in communities surrounding military installations include:
    • Understanding—installations do not understand community governance mechanisms, and communities do not understand installation missions.
    • Data—not sharing data across the fence line can lead to suboptimal results for both installations and communities.
    • Priorities—communities and installations value different (sometimes mutually exclusive) things.
    • Funding—overall lack of funding to implement projects. It is difficult to align funding from multiple sources when several entities would benefit.
  • Inversely, opportunities include:
    • Coordination—open up communication between military installations and communities to encourage the sharing of data and the creation of plans beneficial to each.
    • Planning—coordinating planning can identify better and more cost-effective options and reduce conflicts between military installations and surrounding communities.
    • Funding—pooling funding from multiple sources could lead to faster and better implementation of resiliency and adaptation plans.


Hon. John Conger, Director, Center for Climate and Security; Former Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Defense (Comptroller)

  • John Conger emphasized three main points:
    1. Our bases are under threat. Point Mugu Naval Air Station in California was recently evacuated due to wildfires; Tyndall Air Force Base was levelled by Hurricane Michael a few months ago; and Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune was hit hard by Hurricane Florence. Repairing Tyndall and Lejeune will cost up to $10 billion. There are flooding issues—you can’t use a runway if it’s underwater, and piers are having to be raised to save electronics on their undersides. We cannot ignore this threat as it’s only going to get worse and affect more bases.
    2. Climate doesn’t care about the fence line. We need the same resilience measures outside and inside the fence line. We need to invest in military and civil/community resilience and infrastructure—if your community is under threat so is your military facility.
    3. Bases depend on their local communities. Bases depend on local communities for water, electricity, wastewater and stormwater management, housing (for civilian employees and two-thirds of military families), transportation, and communications. Communities are indispensable to the successful operation of bases. There needs to be a structure in place for communications between the community and the military base in the event of an emergency.
  • “If the base is resilient and the community is not, the base is still screwed and we need to do something about it.”


The vast geographic distribution of DOD facilities, their often advanced age, and the fact that they were originally built to withstand less severe environmental conditions than those now being experienced have all been a cause for grave concern among base commanders. Extreme weather events—flooding, drought, and wildfire—all pose a real threat to DOD assets, as do rising sea levels, which are already causing increased incidence of sunny-day, nuisance flooding on the East Coast. Damage inflicted upon defense facilities and the interdependent assets they host can cripple the military's ability to respond to a crisis, in addition to costing taxpayers millions of dollars in repairs and replacements. Bases must also be regularly resupplied, meaning a natural disaster or infrastructure failure could lead to additional hindrances to a facility's mission.

Likewise, the civilian communities located near many military facilities are every bit as vulnerable to climate change impacts. There is a strong connection between bases across America and the adjacent communities found "beyond the gate." Vital infrastructure, such as roads, electricity, and water, are shared between towns and bases, and these communities often house many active-duty and civilian personnel who work on-base and have strong economic ties with the military's presence. Support services are often carried out by civilian employees, who number 742,000 (compared to 1.3 million active duty personnel). When civilian and active-duty personnel are unable to safely and reliably travel to their jobs on base, DOD operations can be severely hindered.

We thank the David Rockefeller Fund and the Henry M. Jackson Foundation for their support of this event.