No City is Immune to Extreme Weather
With each passing year, the number and severity of extreme weather events and natural disasters are steadily rising. These ominous observations are a stark warning for state and local government leaders.
It is only a matter of time before the next severe weather event strikes. And the price of being unprepared is rising. In the last five years, extreme weather has cost the United States nearly $750 billion. For many cities, the systems and processes put in place decades ago to mitigate and manage disaster impacts are no longer enough. Although the timing and impacts can be unpredictable, there are new measures cities of all sizes can put in place to build a more proactive and resilient community.
City leaders have a decision to make in the face of these threats: Can my community and its citizens afford to continue business-as-usual?
Preparing your community for natural disasters
Going from reactive to proactive requires a city to first gain a comprehensive view of how power, water and emergency services interact and how these relationships impact risks and opportunities. This process of building an energy master plan will also align capital asset planning to prioritize necessary infrastructure upgrades in a way that leverages all available funding, including rebate and stimulus programs. Infrastructure improvements can work across the municipal facility and systems portfolio to boost:
Resiliency: Every community needs a plan for when the power goes out. Or better yet, a plan to keep the power on at critical facilities like the 911 call center, fire and police stations and emergency centers. Creating redundancies in the power grid will make infrastructure more stable and reliable. Diversifying energy sources with solar PV, combined heat and power and microgrids protects against power disruptions.
Water quality: A top priority during many natural disasters is to preserve clean drinking water and ensure that wastewater treatment continues uninterrupted. Stable and reliable power is needed to keep these critical facilities up and running. In addition, a municipality can use smart water meters to detect and react to leaks in the distribution system, helping to conserve water in times of drought and scarcity.
Electric vehicle (EV) fleets: Instead of relying entirely on diesel and gas, diversifying your community’s fleet of sanitation trucks, fire trucks and other critical transportation services creates flexibility in an emergency. The right mix of electric vehicles will help communities to serve its citizens, even in times of critical shortages or supply issues.
Cybersecurity: Beyond the need for physical security in community buildings, city leaders should also consider cybersecurity. Protecting data and hardening the most critical systems against the newest threats and vulnerabilities uncovered by hackers and ransomware should be an integral part of any emergency preparedness plan.
Telecommunications: Keeping critical communications online with new technologies like VOIP will create more agility in an emergency. Diversifying access to the internet using a mix of satellite, cellular and hard lines is another way to ensure critical services can communicate freely and easily.
Emergency shelter readiness: During severe weather and natural disasters, public buildings like libraries, courthouses and public schools serve as emergency shelters providing residents access to critical services, clean water, food distribution and heating or cooling. These buildings can be engineered to withstand the extreme conditions unique to different parts of the country, like tornado shelters in the plains and cooling centers in the south.
Emergency preparedness planning helps protect cities from extreme weather
Emergency preparedness means something different to each community but vulnerable energy infrastructure can be traced back to the heart of most devastating natural disasters. When energy systems fail, a domino effect of threats to human health and safety is set into motion. Access to reliable energy is a must for maintaining a city’s emergency response systems, clean water and life-saving resources and services. Having a plan to ensure grid stability in the event of a hurricane, wildfire or other severe weather should be the foundation of a city’s disaster response strategy.
The commonality among good plans is a blend of short- and long-term solutions that set a city on a path to resilient operations for years to come with an energy master plan.
It starts with the basics, such as establishing a city-wide energy efficiency upgrade program to reduce reliance on grid-tied energy and drive cost savings that can be poured into more innovative investments. Next, cities can progress to going all-in on solar, battery storage, back-up generation, microgrids and electric vehicle fleets. Combined, these technologies can power municipal operations through any type of power outage and emergency.
Energy master planning is the first step toward resilience
An energy master plan will map out the technologies and improvements that a city needs to stand the test of time. Cities can no longer ignore the threat of extreme weather, but all cities can prepare to swiftly address disasters, protect its residents, diversify energy sources and reduce costs.
Learn how municipalities of all sizes are making resilient, sustainable changes for the future in the eBook, Built to Last: A Sustainable Infrastructure Primer for Local Governments.