By Tara M. McCue, AICP, Director of Planning and Community Development, East Central Florida Regional Planning Council
Since 2003, the East Central Florida Regional Planning Council has been examining the connection between sea level rise and impacts to the built and natural environment. It was only 15 years ago, when our team first began reaching out to coastal jurisdictions to discuss how their comprehensive plans addressed rising sea level, that we found only a sentence or two to the effect of “we will monitor the situation” and our efforts were often dismissed. Fast forward 10 years, and we can see how far education, forward-thinking leaders and experience has brought the region and state in regards to resilience planning. With the adoption of the 2060 Plan – East Central Florida RPC’s Strategic Regional Policy Plan – and it’s optional “Climate and Energy” Chapter, the passage of legislation that focuses on planning for sea level rise and the development of strategies in plans to create more resilient communities, local governments are beginning to take a harder look at impacts from natural disasters, sea level rise, and increased “sunny day flooding” and finding ways to adapt or mitigate these shocks and stressors.
While agencies and jurisdictions began to conduct vulnerability assessments to either be proactive or to be in compliance with new state and federal direction, the ECFRPC continued to partner and bring resilience training opportunities through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (FDEO) to the region. More in-depth conversation focused on the concept of resilience, the impacts of rising seas, next steps and how the region needs to have a greater conversation continue to take place.
In an effort to assist our coastal partners answer the questions Where do we start? Now what? What role does my agency have?, the ECFRPC was awarded a Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) Grant through the Coastal Management Program and NOAA in 2017 to work with stakeholders in Brevard and Volusia Counties to develop the East Central Florida Regional Resiliency Action Plan (ECF RRAP) with the goal to increase the ability of local and regional stakeholders to implement resiliency and climate adaptation strategies across disciplines. The plan development process revolved around guidance from a cross-disciplined steering committee, extensive stakeholder engagement, and best practice research. To guide the development of the RRAP and a regional approach to sea level rise planning, a steering committee was formed comprised of federal, state, regional and local agencies and institutions, local communities and subject matter experts. As a stakeholder driven process, the ECFRPC worked extensively to engage all levels of government, the private sector and the public through workshops, a survey and numerous agency interviews and feedback sessions.
The framework for the ECF RRAP was based on the 100 Resilient Cities program of the Rockefeller Foundation which works with cities around the world to help them “become more resilient to the physical, social and economic challenges that are a growing part of the 21st Century”. The action plan presents a five-year planning horizon based around four main focus areas of the 100 Resilient Cities program: Leadership and Strategy, Economic and Society, Infrastructure and Environment, and Health and Wellbeing. The action plan encompasses a variety of resiliency aspects and aims to incorporate discussion on infrastructure (water, energy, waste, etc.), health, planning, emergency preparedness, economics and leadership as they revolve around a “shock and stressor” approach and also allows for the replicability and refinement of the plan on a local or agency level to incorporate additional actions to address resilience to more shocks and stressors. The plan is a call for action and partnership across all levels of government agencies, not-for-profits, the business sector and other stakeholders as resilience can not be approached in silos and takes all facets of a community.
Beyond the development of the cross-discipline action plan itself, a few key points were evident through the process. There was a deep concern over the reactive versus proactive approach that many take due to lack of resources, especially financial, and potential implications of stricter land use planning aimed at the protection of life and property. Another major takeaway was that while the coastal communities in the east central Florida region may have the specific threat of sea level rise to plan for, the conversation of resilience cannot be had through a coastal county versus landlocked county perspective. To tackle resilience in a region as unique as east central Florida, a truly regional approach is needed; an approach that considers commonalities such as flooding, transportation, economic resilience, sustainability and socio-economic vulnerabilities, but also the uniqueness of each community such as agriculture dependence, sea level rise, migrating ecosystems as well as the human population.
For these reasons, the ECFRPC Board unanimously passed a resolution in September of 2018 to develop the framework for a more inclusive/or expanded regional resilience collaborative. This effort is currently in its infancy but we are excited to work with the ECFRPC Board and stakeholders in our eight-county region (Brevard, Lake, Marion, Orange, Osceola, Seminole, Sumter and Volusia) to formulate a new collaborative that will work to help foster comprehensive resilience strategies.
Information on the action plan and its process can be found here: https://www.perilofflood.net/ecfresiliency.
This article should be considered copyright by the ECFRPC.
Tara M. McCue, AICP
Director of Planning and Community Development
East Central Florida Regional Planning Council
455 N. Garland Ave. Suite 414
Orlando, FL 32801