From the Tragedy of Sandy to a Better Tomorrow for the East Coast

Like most Americans, and many around the world, I have been glued to my television, laptop, and phone as the tragic events of the past seven days have unfolded.  As with Katrina, Sandy wrought unprecedented destruction to an area not as accustomed to such events as we on the Gulf Coast.  Our hearts, and prayers, go out to the victims and everyone who has suffered.  We understand, more than most, the helplessness and hopelessness that comes over even the most resilient people when faced with such devastation.  

However, there IS hope, and our friends in New York, New Jersey, Virginia, and surrounding states can take comfort that fellow citizens in other regions of the U.S. are coming back from the abyss and are rebuilding stronger and wiser.  Hurricane Issac was not as powerful as Katrina, but it took almost the same path and directly hit New Orleans, with one big difference:  this was not the same relatively unprotected New Orleans as in 2005.  The storm surge protection system, as costly as it was, proved to be a good investment.  

Less visible was the investment in business continuity and resiliency planning that greatly shortened recovery time for both businesses and people.  No doubt, the damage was still significant, particularly to the power grid, and recovery is still occurring.  But, it was a far cry from the utter catastrophe of seven years ago.  Business resiliency efforts, from business continuity and resiliency strategies offered by my colleague Bonnie Canal, to a unified master plan that included resiliency efforts across many disciplines, helped greatly to reduce the amount of both losses and heartache.  

My long-time acquaintance Richard Florida, famous for touting the benefits of dynamic cities, has written an excellent article in The Atlantic Cities on why NOW is the time for extensive resiliency efforts on coastal cities worldwide (see  http://www.theatlanticcities.com/jobs-and-economy/2012/11/making-our-cities-more-resilient-cant-wait/3758/)   Of particular interest are the maps, provided by OECD, showing the exposure of both people and business activity to future climate events.  In short, the numbers are massive.  

Certainly, cities not recently affected should plan for both response and recovery BEFORE the next storm hits.  However, those along the U.S. eastern coast have no reason not to begin NOW to begin recovery strategies that maximize the pace of reinvestment AND build initiatives to greatly increase resiliency.

Our experience on the Gulf Coast, particularly the Gulf Coast Business Reinvestment forum, can serve as a useful framework for recovery and resiliency efforts.  Bringing together economic development, civic, business, and political/policy leadership from all affected states, with participation by cabinet-level department and agency heads, resulted in a concise framework for action.  This effort began not two weeks after Katrina struck.  By the time it was held, efforts were already underway, leaders were seeing what worked and what didn’t, and visions of the extent of damage to both property and business activity were clear.  

The Forum addressed six issues of common concern, and was conducted in a Charrette format, with working groups for each issue and facilitation by experts familiar with each.  Each group operated in a framework trademarked as “Strategic Doing” by my former partner Ed Morrison, with three simple questions as guideposts:  1.  What could we do together (clearly defining the issue and possible solutions); 2. What should we do together (prioritizing and testing potential solutions); 3. What will we do together (developing concise, clear action steps to implement solutions); and 4. When will we get back together (how do we follow up and continue progress)?  The groups then came back together and reported their results to the entire forum for feedback and adoption.  

This framework could be used successfully by New York, New Jersey, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina to develop recovery and resiliency initiatives.  Lessons learned from other coastal major population centers hit by hurricanes could also be inserted into recovery and resiliency efforts.  Whatever the structure, the timing is critical–and these efforts need to begin RIGHT NOW.  Hopefully, with strong, built-in initiatives for resiliency, this opportunity to Recover a Better Future from this level of devastation in New York, New Jersey, Virginia, Pennsylvania and neighboring states will indeed be a “Once in a Lifetime” event. 

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