Reports Outline Steps For VT To Prepare For Next Disaster

Dec 17, 2013

Credit Institute for Sustainable Communities

Two reports were issued Monday outlining policies and procedures that Vermont officials can implement to better prepare the state for natural disasters.

The reports released Monday outlined steps to minimize the risks inherent in natural disasters in a state still reeling from 2011’s Irene and Lee. “Vermont’s Roadmap to Resilience” is a follow up to the 18-month “Toward a More Resilient Vermont” and “Resilient Vermont Project” launched in 2012 by the Institute for Sustainable Communities in Montpelier.  Communications Manager Liz Schlegel  notes that they began working shortly after Tropical Storm Irene about how the state would deal with the next disaster.  “Not necessarily the stuff that people wanted to focus on at that moment. But we knew from our experience around the world that that is when people can really start thinking ‘What did we learn from it and what do we want to make sure we retain.”

The roadmap’s recommendations are broken into four core areas: knowing the risks, increased emergency management functions, infrastructure investment to address vulnerabilities, and creation of the Vermont Strong Network. Liz Schlegel feels that how policies are implemented will be crucial to Vermont’s future.  “We need to start with practical reality. Vermont is a well watered state and we have built around the water. That’s not going to change.  But we also have very strong working fields and working forests that protect us, that are our buffer zones. So there is discussion around what do we do with existing development and infrastructure. So it’s really important to look at how we are using lands now and how we’re going to be affected in the future.”

Vermont Commissioner of Housing and Community Development Noelle MacKay notes that some of the suggestions in the reports are already being implemented - such as annual training and the merging of emergency management and homeland security to create a hub for disaster information. MacKay says such changes are already making a difference.  “When Tropical Storm hit I was eight months into the job, and I was being asked to activate task forces. And noone knew anything about those task forces. Now we on an annual basis train our staff. So that’s just one example. Having gone out after Irene, those communities that planned, prepared and practiced responded much better.”

Vermont Natural Resources Council Executive Director Brian Schupe says the intent is no longer to respond to Irene. He says resiliency is about preparing for the next shock or natural catastrophe.   “Now with the uncertain world of climate change, we’re going to see more intense storm events. So we need to institutionalize many of the recommendations so they last beyond the current administration. So the next time we get whacked we bounce back instead of getting broken.”

The second report is “Vermont State Agency Policy Options, Disaster Recovery and Long-Term Resilience Planning in Vermont.” It was prepared by Gavin Smith at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Coastal Hazards Center of Excellence at the University of North Carolina and includes specific measures for state agencies to prepare for future disasters.