Extreme weather events and shifting climate conditions are more frequently having a devastating effect on communities across the United States. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, there were 20 weather disaster events in 2021 with losses exceeding $1 billion each, and 323 weather and climate disasters, including wildfires and drought, since 1980 in which overall damage and costs reached or exceeded $1 billion each. The total cost of these 323 events in 2022 dollars exceeded $2.2 trillion (NOAA, 2022) (see Box 1 for definitions used in this report).
While media coverage sometimes paints these disasters as affecting rich and poor alike, the reality is that decades of discriminatory policies and practices can contribute to low-income communities, Indigenous people, and communities of color bearing more than their fair share of the social, economic, health, and environmental burdens caused by extreme weather and other natural disasters (Emrich et al., 2022; EPA, 2021; Tate and Emrich, 2021; Domingue and Emrich, 2019; Emrich et al., 2019; Jerolleman, 2019; Rufat et al., 2019; Bakkensen et al., 2017; SAMHSA, 2017; Liu and Li, 2016; Muñoz and Tate, 2016; Tate et al., 2016; Reid, 2013; Smith, 2012; Yoon, 2012; Khunwishit and McEntire, 2012; Tierney and Oliver-Smith, 2012; Schmidtlein et al., 2011; Burton, 2010; Finch et al., 2010; Fekete, 2009; Myers et al., 2008; Smith and Wenger, 2007; Kettl, 2006; Enarson, 1998; Nigg, 1995; Berke et al., 1993). Three months after Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, for example, approximately half of its population remained without power (Robles and Bidgood, 2017), and Hurricane Harvey’s floods had a disproportionate impact on low-income communities and communities of color in Houston (Coleman et al., 2020).
Current thinking about community resilience—the existence, development, and engagement of community resources by community members to thrive in an environment characterized by change, uncertainty, unpredictability, and surprise (Magis, 2010)—tends to emphasize the potential for individuals and communities to become more adaptable to uncertainty and change through practices such as disaster risk reduction, mitigation, and planning (Uekusa, 2018) (see Box 2). This view, however, fails to account for the fact that marginalized and socially vulnerable communities and communities of color typically lack the knowledge and resources to engage in risk reduction, mitigation, and planning or are neglected in planning by states or other policy makers and decision makers. Any approach that aims to enhance community resilience and adaptability in an equitable manner must include rebalancing public infrastructure investments, addressing fundamental social inequalities starting with the planning phase and recognizing the inequities that have resulted from years of practice (Matin et al., 2018).
Goals of the Committee
As part of its efforts to reduce the immense human and financial toll of extreme events, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in 2020 asked the Resilient America Program of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to convene the Committee on Applied Research Topics for Hazard Mitigation and Resilience (see Box 3 for further information on the Resilient America Program). FEMA charged the committee with identifying “applied research topics, information, and expertise that can inform action and collaborative opportunities within the natural hazard mitigation and resilience fields.” In 2021, the first committee held two workshops on applied research topics—Social Capital and Social Connectedness for Resilience, and Motivating Local Climate Action—and prepared two brief consensus reports (NASEM, 2021a, 2021b) that identified and summarized key research topics for the applied research community in the specific areas discussed at the workshop and in open discussions of the Resilient America Roundtable.
In 2022, the second committee selected two additional themes—Equitable and Resilient Infrastructure Investments, and Compounding and Cascading Events—and held 1-day public workshops to explore each of these themes. This report examines the first theme, focusing on strategies that enable equitable and resilient infrastructure capable of providing services tailored to local community conditions, needs, and priorities; a subsequent report will consider the second theme. As was true for the two reports issued in 2021, this report contains findings but no recommendations and is limited to the topics covered in the public workshops and in open discussions with the Resilient America Roundtable. The full Statement of Task is as follows:
A committee of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine will identify applied research topics, information, and expertise that can inform action and collaborative opportunities within the natural hazard mitigation and resilience fields. The committee will convene two public workshops as the primary source of information for its work, supplemented by background materials collected for the workshops and discussions at public sessions of the Resilient America Roundtable.
Each workshop will focus on distinct hazard mitigation and resilience issues and research questions, such as compound and cascading hazard incidents; risk communication and decision making in a changing risk landscape; nature-based solutions, buyouts, and managed retreat options for coastal risks; and equity and social vulnerability considerations in risk and decision metrics. Following each workshop, the committee will prepare a brief consensus study report that identifies and summarizes key research topics for the applied research community in the specific areas discussed at the workshop. Each report will contain findings
but no recommendations and will be limited to the topics covered at that workshop.
To meet this charge for the first theme—Equitable and Resilient Infrastructure Investments—the committee organized a public, 1-day workshop featuring diverse voices and expertise on this topic to survey existing knowledge and practice. Based on information the committee gained at this workshop and committee members’ backgrounds and experience with hazard mitigation and resilience, the committee chose three topics as being particularly important for making equitable and resilient infrastructure investments as part of the nation’s work on natural hazard mitigation and resilience. The three topics are (1) partnerships for equitable infrastructure development, (2) systemic change toward resilient and equitable infrastructure investment, and (3) innovations in finance and financial analysis.
This report’s primary audience is the applied research community in the fields of hazards, vulnerability, risk reduction, and resilience. The community includes hazard-specific and general resilience research centers as well as cooperative institutions engaged with states, tribes, and local communities on related challenges. Broader audiences include public, private, nongovernmental, philanthropic, and academic organizations at the local, regional, state, tribal, and federal levels seeking to reduce the impacts, losses, and suffering across the United States from disasters as a result of natural or technological hazards, public health emergencies, and other significant threats to communities and the nation. The aim of the committee’s activities is to inform applied research programs that will strengthen capacities for hazard mitigation and resilience across the nation and around the world.
On March 17, 2022, the committee held a 1-day workshop on the theme of Equitable and Resilient Infrastructure Investments. The agenda for the workshop, developed in part based on input the committee received during an open session of the Resilient America Roundtable on January 28, 2022, appears in Appendix B, and biographical sketches for the workshop presenters are in Appendix C. Workshop panelists included individuals from the public and private sectors; organizations involved in various resilience and social justice activities across the United States; community-based organizations; and the research, community engagement, infrastructure, transportation, housing, and policy communities. The committee asked workshop panelists to consider and address the questions listed in Appendix D to help determine unmet applied research needs within the workshop theme.
Workshop presentations and discussions focused on two broad areas, equitable community development and equitable physical infrastructure, followed by three deep-dive topic areas to provide examples of how to direct infrastructure investment to support resilience and equity and to reflect specific community requirements. The equitable community development panel explored how infrastructure supports the delivery of equitable services and functions to the entire community, as well as the social impacts of infrastructure damage and loss of community resilience. The equitable physical infrastructure panel explored how infrastructure investments increase the capacity of communities to recover their services and functions and the challenges and opportunities with some of planning and investment strategies.
The first deep dive explored the collaborative development, design, and operation of community resilience hubs and how these concepts can be expanded to strengthen adaptive capacity and provide services that enhance community resilience year-round and in spite of a changing climate and changing technologies. The second deep dive focused on housing infrastructure, and how such investments influence both household and community resilience. The final deep dive examined transportation infrastructure. The panelists addressed infrastructure investments in these three areas as a means of exploring their potential to provide resilience for hazard and other disruptive events, as well as their role in increasing everyday community resilience, particularly for vulnerable populations. The workshop also explored the interplay between physical infrastructure and social infrastructure; examined how infrastructure investments based on codes, standards, and best practices and prioritized community needs can reduce damage and losses from extreme events when damage and disruption occur; and discussed equitable recovery in the context of historical inequities and existing social, economic,