ELP alums part of Virginia sea rise study, policy

As he co-chaired a state panel on recurring flooding in Virginia’s Tidewater region and developed a report on the topic, Jim Redick reached out to his colleagues in the Center for Homeland Defense and Security Executive Leaders Program for feedback.

The result was a series of recommendations on combating sea level rise in Virginia, some of which are proceeding with implementation.

“My ELP peers were very supportive of the projects,” said Redick, Director of Norfolk Emergency Preparedness and Response. “Outside of the scheduled curriculum, I sent to the group for review and comment if their interest and time permitted. They came through”

The document, “Recommendations to the Secure Commonwealth Panel on the Issue of Sea Level Rise and Recurrent Flooding in Coastal Virginia,” was forwarded to Virginia Secretary, Public Safety and Homeland Security, Brian Moran, who is an alumnus of the CHDS Fusion Center Leaders Program and ELP alum Adam Thiel.

One of the recommendations of the report was fulfilled when Moran was also assigned as the Commonwealth’s Chief Resilience Officer.

“As the Commonwealth’s Chief Resilience Officer, I am charged with coordinating our collaborative efforts across secretariats, agencies, levels of government, and among our non-profit and private-sector partners,” Moran noted. “As a result, we work with other secretaries and agencies to develop strategies and responses to resilience-related issues.”

Situated on the mid-Atlantic coast, Virginia has seen more frequent flooding events in recent years, the product of rising sea levels coupled with, in some cases, land subsidence. The Chesapeake Bay region is sinking, according to a January article in the New York Times, and the Tidewater region was hit by a meteor 35 million years ago which created a weakened sediment zone on which Norfolk is situated and may be contributing to sinking land.

The recommendations were in response to a study by the College of William and Mary Institute of Marine Sciences that warned recurrent flooding would worsen over the coming 20 to 50 years.  The tidewater region where Redick works encompasses 28 percent of Virginia’s land mass, but includes 60 percent of its residents. Norfolk is the population hub of the region which includes the nation’s largest naval-base and second-largest commercial port along with military and civilian infrastructure.

1) The sub-panel’s report captured the information and studies collected up to that point as well as documenting the actions taken to address the issue.

“All efforts were made to leverage various studies, efforts and resources – to not recreate the wheel or duplicate efforts,” Redick noted. “It also showed the Commonwealth is quite equipped with an all-star team of experts from various sectors and levels of government –

More than 20 recommendations are made in the report.  Among them is co-opting the format of the Incident Management System to coordinate a “whole community” approach among agencies that would need to participate; cross-training government departments to ensure consistency of approach; securing a funding mechanism devoted to related flood-mitigation projects in the affected area; working with federal partners as well as non-profit groups; and, encouraging the education of the next generation of scientists and engineers.

Time is off the essence. Some scientists estimate a sea level rise of up to four feet by the end of the century. Land in the city is subsiding in places and neighborhoods there are already prone to floods.

2) Participating in the ELP helped Redick realize the issue of sea level rise is more than an issue for science or academia.

“It presents a significant impact to our critical infrastructure, our housing, our economy,” he noted. In Norfolk, the location of the largest Naval Station in the world, the road networks can be inundated with flood waters. It is very much an issue of homeland security.”

The report also calls for dedicated funding to research and implement projects mitigating sea level rise.

His ELP peers provided responses either validating that which was written, or offering different thoughts and perspectives from their various disciplines, Redick noted.

“This feedback was invaluable ensuring the report addressed the needs and concerns of a wide-ranging audience, not just the usual suspects,” he said.

3) Further research will continue by the Governor’s Climate Change and Resiliency Update Commission in concert with Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources Molly Ward and Commission members representing a broad range of stakeholders.

Associated file: Recommendations to the Secure Commonwealth Panel on the Issue of Sea Level Rise and Recurrent Flooding in Coastal Virginia