Community Resiliency

EPA is Poised and Ready to Help Communities Address the Impacts of Looming “Megatrends”

By Alan Hecht and Aaron Ferster

The world faces serious challenges due to a growing number of what scientists and other have defined as megatrends, long-term changes that affect governments, societies and economies over long periods of time.  Many of these large-scale changes are driven by the environment. A 2015 report from the National Science Foundation, America’s Future: Environmental Research and Education for a Thriving Century: A 10-year Outlook, notes that “we’re experiencing a time in which human society and technology are increasing the pace and rate of environmental change in ways for which no precedent exists, and which have significant potential consequences.”

The destruction left after a major storm

EPA research is dedicated to helping communities become more prepared and resilient in the face of looming environmental megatrends.

The biggest impacts from these changes are felt most in cities, where the majority of people live. Cities today are struggling with the very real economic and quality of life impacts of extreme weather events such as hurricanes and other super storms, extended droughts, extreme heat days, and flooding.

And the extended forecast is not promising. Scientists project that in the decades ahead, droughts in the U.S. Southwest and Central Plains could be drier and longer than dry conditions seen in those regions during the last 1,000 years. Maps of potential rising sea levels show that nearly two million U.S. homes could be inundated by 2100, displacing many more millions of people and resulting in staggering property losses totaling hundreds of billions of dollars.

EPA is poised to respond to these predictions through science, innovation, and extensive collaboration throughout the government and business communities.

EPA researcher Alan Hecht and co-authors identify several key actions for working toward a more resilient and sustainable society in their recently published paper, Responding to Megatrends for a Resilient and Sustainable Society.

These actions include:

  • Anticipating future changes and adopting foresight management;
  • Applying systems thinking in problem solving;
  • Developing and using decision support tools;
  • Advancing green design and infrastructure;
  • Advancing environmental education and the understanding of future threats and the links between the environment, the economy, and human well-being; and
  • Expanding stakeholder engagement and cooperation, especially between businesses and government.

Taking action to anticipate and meet even the most daunting environmental challenges is at the core of EPA’s mission. Over the past forty-plus years, our role has evolved to a science-based leader in innovation and collaboration. A new challenge for EPA now is to act with the foresight needed to deal with present and future megatrends in ways that increase resiliency and advance sustainability.

For society as a whole, the challenge ahead is to respond to emerging trends, build a resilient and sustainable society, and recognize the need for widespread cooperation to ensure the security and prosperity of present and future generations. A new era of environmental management and education is needed.  We must plan for future challenges and disprove Benjamin Franklin’s classic adage “It is not until the well runs dry that we know the worth of water.”

About the Authors: Alan Hecht is a Senior Sustainability Advisor in EPA’s Sustainable and Healthy Community national research program. Aaron Ferster is the communications lead for that program, and an EPA science writer.

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed herein are those of the author alone. EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog, nor does EPA endorse the opinions or positions expressed. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content. If you do make changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Tools for Building Disaster Resilient Communities

By Eli Walton

As a student in Connecticut, I witnessed first-hand the effects of major disasters like Hurricane Sandy and “Winter Storm Nemo,” the February 2013 blizzard. Downed trees and branches littered streets and green space, record snowfall rendered roadways impassable for residents and emergency services, and hundreds of thousands of people were left without power, sometimes for weeks. Having experienced these impacts, I am grateful to be part of EPA’s efforts to help communities better mitigate, prepare for, respond to, and recover from events like these.

Disaster responders in hazmat suits clean up

EPA Responds to the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in 2010.

Disasters—whether a hurricane, oil spill, or contamination event—can strike at any time, at any place, and can have devastating consequences for human health and the environment. They may make existing problems worse, like when the Joplin, Missouri tornado exposed people to toxic waste lingering from Joplin’s mining days. They also may create new environmental hazards, like when mold plagued homes and businesses flooded by Hurricane Sandy. While not all disasters can be prevented, the potential harms and risks they pose can be mitigated with the right tools and actions.

Researchers and scientists in EPA’s Homeland Security Research Program, along with collaborators across the Agency, are constantly developing and refining new tools for decision-makers. These tools, compiled in this inventory, serve a variety of purposes, including cleaning up contamination, managing waste and debris, and modeling watersheds. Individually, these tools address different issues that may arise when preparing for or responding to an event. Altogether, they can help communities become more resilient to disasters.

An American flag hangs above wreckage from a tornado.

Wreckage following a 2013 Tornado in Moore, Oklahoma.

For example, the Incident Waste Assessment & Tonnage Estimator (I-WASTE) can help with disaster preparedness and planning by identifying appropriate waste disposal technologies and facilities before they are needed. The Community-Based Water Resiliency Tool (CBWR) can help with emergency planning for an event that may affect water resources and can be used by utilities, officials, and concerned citizens alike. When environmental contamination arises, the Aggregated Computational Toxicology Online Resource (ACTOR) can be used to inform decisions based on chemical toxicity and the potential health effects of chemical exposures in the environment.

The tools in this inventory are just a sample of EPA’s resources, and much more work is underway across the Agency and with collaborators to help strengthen both individual and community disaster resilience.

About the Author: Eli Walton is a Student Services Contractor with the National Homeland Security Research Center in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed herein are those of the author alone. EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog, nor does EPA endorse the opinions or positions expressed. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content. If you do make changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Research Recap: This week in EPA Science

By Kacey Fitzpatrick

Research recap graphic identifier, a microscope with the words "research recap" around it in a circleIt’s the first week of September which means it’s the end of summer, kids are going back to school, football is starting, and pumpkin-flavored everything is appearing in grocery stores and coffee shops.

September is also National Preparedness Month, and although EPA researchers work year-round to help local communities across the nation become more resilient and better prepared to respond to disasters, their efforts will be highlighted this month.

  • Yale University’s The Metric blog featured how the Agency’s Office of Homeland Security “is now taking steps to build community capacity on environmental resilience to reduce risk from both natural and manmade risks.” Read Disasters Looming, EPA Focuses on Environmental Resilience.
  • To learn more about how EPA homeland security researchers support such efforts, see the special homeland security issue of our EPA Science Matters newsletter.

Recently, we saw how toxins from harmful algal and cyanobacterial blooms can disrupt the nation’s source waters.

If you have any comments or questions about what I share or about the week’s events, please submit them below in the comments section!

About the Author: Writer Kacey Fitzpatrick recently joined the science communication team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development as a student contractor.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed herein are those of the author alone. EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog, nor does EPA endorse the opinions or positions expressed. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content. If you do make changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

EPA’s Homeland Security Research Center Turns 10 Today!

By Jonathan G. Herrmann, P.E., BCEE

When I watched Claire Danes accept an Emmy Award for her role as Carrie Mathison in the television series “HOMELAND” last Sunday evening, I was again reminded that homeland security is neither out of sight nor out of mind.

In fact, today, EPA’s National Homeland Security Research Center turns 10!

I had the great honor of being one of the Center’s founding members when it was formally established on September 28, 2002.  We drew upon the experience and expertise of the scientific, technical, and administrative staff from across EPA’s Office of Research and Development in creating the Center.  Our near-term goal was to put in place a talented team of individuals to support the Agency in responding to the tragedy of 9/11 and the Amerithrax attacks later in 2001.

The events of 9/11 were devastating to the American public and their impact was felt around the World.  Amerithrax killed five people and contaminated at least 17 buildings with weaponized anthrax spores.  These incidents, along with the possibility of other attacks, required the U.S. Government—at all levels—to do what was necessary to respond and recover—and prevent attacks from happening again in the United States.

EPA continues to play a critical role in protecting the country’s water infrastructure and has the responsibility to address the intentional contamination of buildings, water systems and public areas.  These activities are informed and supported by our research results and scientific and technical expertise.

Our work is guided by laws, Presidential Directives, the National Response Framework, and is consistent with the National Security Strategy.  EPA scientists and engineers provide guidance, tools and technical support to decision makers at the federal, state, and local levels to ensure that decontamination is as cost-effective and timely as possible.  Together with our partners in EPA’s Program Offices and Regions, we enhance the nation’s capability to prepare for, respond to, and recover from both man-made and natural disasters.

Events like Hurricane Katrina (2005), the Deepwater Horizon oil spill (2010) and, more recently, the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster in Japan (2011) tested our capabilities like never before.  Along with Agency peers and colleagues from across the federal government, EPA scientists and engineers stepped up to these extraordinary challenges with their time, skills, expertise, energy, and dedication.

I am proud of EPA’s homeland security research efforts and the contributions that the Center has made.  Our efforts strengthen our nation’s resiliency and advance EPA’s mission to protect public health and the environment.

About the author:  Jonathan Herrmann is Director, National Homeland Security Research Center, EPA Office of Research and Development.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed herein are those of the author alone. EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog, nor does EPA endorse the opinions or positions expressed. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content. If you do make changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.