FEMA Names Nearly 500 US Communities as ‘Resilience Zones’
Rikers Island in the Bronx, New York, made the list due to its extreme vulnerability to flooding. Lincoln, Wyoming, was selected because of its high avalanche risk. And the danger of both earthquakes and drought propelled part of Alameda, California, to federal attention.
The three places are among 483 census tracts nationwide that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) designated Wednesday as Community Disaster Resilience Zones, giving them prioritized access to federal funding to strengthen their defenses against climate impacts and other hazards. In all, the designated tracts cover about 2 million people living in rural, urban and suburban areas.
“These designations will help ensure that the most at-risk communities are able to build resilience against natural hazards and extreme weather events, which are becoming increasingly intense and frequent due to climate change,” FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell said in a written statement.
Each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia has at least one community in the initial set of designations, made available in advance exclusively to Bloomberg Green. Unsurprisingly, California, Texas and Florida — large states that regularly experience hurricanes and wildfires — have the highest number of zones per state, with 51, 35 and 32, respectively.
Harris County, Texas, whose county seat is Houston, has the most resilience zones of any single US county at 14. Houston was devastated by flooding from Hurricane Harvey in 2017. Roughly 16% of people in the county live below the poverty line, according to the US Census.
To compile the list, FEMA said it looked at 18 different natural risk factors, ranging from flooding to extreme heat to hailstone damage. The agency also considered socioeconomic factors that can impact a community’s disaster resilience.
FEMA made the designations following a law passed last year that instructed the agency to identify areas at high risk from natural hazards. The list of 483 zones announced today will be expanded later this year and again in 2024. Designation lasts five years.
Victoria Salinas, associate administrator for resilience at FEMA, said the designation should allow local governments to take a more holistic approach to climate-related threats, rather than pursuing one-off projects. A community threatened by extreme heat could, for example, open a cooling center and combine it with setting aside more parkland or building a microgrid to power air conditioners if the larger grid fails.
Salinas said the program will bring consistency to the still-evolving field of climate adaptation and disaster risk mitigation. While each community will need to tailor its responses to unique circumstances, having the designation will enable them all to access a “common methodology, approach and partnership structure to help them make a giant leap forward” in preparing for climate risks.
Officials also hope it will encourage other players, such as philanthropies and private companies, to target investments in these areas. The goal, said Salinas, is “to catalyze resilience-building in a concentrated amount of time.”
Photo: Residents wait to be rescued from rising floodwaters after Hurricane Harvey hit Harris County, Texas, on Aug. 28, 2017. Fourteen of FEMA’s Community Disaster Resilience Zones are located in Harris County. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg