Across the nation, America needs resilient communities with the capacity to respond to, withstand, and recover from adverse situations. Such communities are able to bounce back from disruptions while providing a high quality of life for all residents. Resilient communities are able to address natural hazard preparedness, mitigation, and response needs, but, as the term is used here, it refers to the whole panoply of potential and actual stresses facing communities.
Our nation’s communities are on the front lines of numerous challenges, including but certainly not limited to:
- Extreme weather conditions and natural disasters. Natural disasters such as floods, hurricanes, wildfires, and earthquakes have all struck different parts of the country. Just last year, California experienced the two most destructive wildfires in its history. Recently, hurricanes have done significant damage to Puerto Rico, Florida, Texas, and the Carolinas, while the Midwest has had catastrophic flooding.
- Economic dislocations. With the decline of manufacturing, the rise of innovative technologies, and the increase in service work, many communities are suffering from significant economic dislocations. Thousands of distressed communities have lost their economic growth engines and have emerged as ground zero for a combination of opioid addiction, educational and healthcare disparities, and population declines. Even communities that are not in significant distress must pay attention to such issues: growing urban metropolises, for example, have disadvantaged populations that are disproportionately affected by economic dislocation; face challenges providing affordable housing to their population; and must prepare for a future in which they are not guaranteed to continue to grow.
- Health epidemics. Opioid overdoses have become the leading cause of death in recent years—killing more than 400,000 people since 2000, with nearly 100,000 of these deaths occurring in the last two years. The per capita death toll has been especially high in the Appalachian region. About half of the American population has diabetes or pre-diabetes. Diet-related diseases such as obesity have imposed significant costs on individuals, families, and communities; they have also begun to impede our economic competitiveness and military readiness and are a major driver in skyrocketing healthcare costs. Sexually Transmitted Diseases have increased in prevalence in all parts of the country. Nearly 20 percent of Americans suffer from mental health issues that range from mild to moderate to severe.
- Unaffordable housing. The affordability of housing has declined over the past 7 years. In 2012, the NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Opportunity Index showed that nearly 80 percent of new and existing homes were affordable; this dropped to 56 percent in late 2018 and is projected to continue to fall. Affordable housing is an issue throughout the country, especially in the fast-growing urban areas on the East and West Coasts.
This disturbing list is not exhaustive. Public agencies and administrators have an important role to play in building resilient communities. As this will require a cross-cutting intergovernmental and intersectoral approach, public administrators can bring a diverse array of public, nonprofit, and private organizations together to develop strategies and implement programs. They can assist with mitigating and withstanding stresses, recovering, and applying lessons learned.
As part of the Grand Challenge to “Build Resilient Communities,” the Academy will work with stakeholders to determine how to:
- Identify key precepts of resilient communities as applied to the natural disaster area that can be used to address a broader set of issues such as education, healthcare, and housing;
- Determine how communities can optimize and coordinate existing federal, state, and local resources to build resilience;
- Increase preparedness, mitigation, and response capabilities to all hazards;
- Ensure equal access to education and vocational training;
- Promote public health and healthcare access; and
- Meet modern day infrastructure and housing needs.
This is an illustrative list of topics. As the Grand Challenges campaign kicks off and progresses, other issues can and will be addressed based on stakeholder feedback about critical needs and opportunities.