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EPA Researchers are Helping Cities Measure Their Resilience

Published November 20, 2017

EPA and collaborators have released a report that can help cities identify areas of vulnerability and prepare for environmental changes such as more intense heat waves, more frequent floods and droughts, and higher sea levels and storm surges. The report defines urban resilience as a city’s ability to reduce vulnerability to and recover from environmental changes. The report describes a workbook that local professionals can use to measure the resilience of different parts of a city to environmental changes. This workbook evaluates eight aspects of a city: water, energy, transportation, public health, economy, land use, the natural environment, and telecommunications.

Researchers piloted the workbook in two different cities: Washington, DC, and Worcester, Massachusetts.  Researchers evaluated these two cities because they are opposites in terms of size, resources, and the environmental risks they face. Using these different cities gave researchers an opportunity to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the tool. Washington, DC, is a populous city with the planning, financial, and data resources to develop and implement efforts to adapt to environmental changes and reduce their impacts. DC's geography makes it vulnerable to sea level rise, storms, heat waves, and floods. Alternatively, Worcester is a post-industrial city with a smaller population and less resources than a city like Washington, DC. Worcester is vulnerable to extreme seasonal weather changes that can cause urban fires, which can increase in frequency with more frequent and severe droughts. These threats highlight the need for adaption and mitigation efforts in both cities.  

Susan Julius believes that the tool’s potential to inform future adaptation to environmental changes looking across multiple city sectors is one of its greatest strengths.  “After you assess your city’s resilience, you can actually trace back to the sector where you are most vulnerable to understand what factors contribute most to that vulnerability. The report gives you a general direction for prioritizing improvements to the resilience of different sectors.”

Environmental changes will continue to impact infrastructure, public health, and people’s well-being. Communities must prepare for these threats and prioritize adaptation efforts. This EPA report describes a comprehensive, transparent, and flexible workbook that cities can use to determine areas of vulnerability.