How Florida can build resilience

How Florida can build resilience

The state of Florida is uniquely vulnerable to a variety of climate change impacts: battered on both sides from more frequent and stronger storms, and millions of people at risk due to the rising sea level. A new state program, Resilient Florida, offered $20 million to assist eligible jurisdictions in assessing the risks of, planning for, and adapting to flooding and sea level rise.

Many of ICF’s 2,000 climate energy and environment experts work on resilience projects across the country, from supporting local jurisdictions in Florida with planning for future conditions and securing funding for infrastructure improvements, to the federal government’s National Climate Assessment—the gold-standard report on climate impacts across the country. Here are our key lessons learned that can be applied to resilience work happening at the local level across Florida.

Prioritize resilience efforts

In order to be eligible for Resilient Florida’s new infrastructure funding, municipalities need to conduct a vulnerability assessment. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has laid out guidance on the minimum requirements and which flooding scenarios it needs to consider. However, when possible, we encourage municipalities to go above and beyond the minimum requirements—if it can be done cost-effectively.

It's important that communities conduct a vulnerability assessment in a way that sets you up to identify priorities and gives you decision-ready information for future investments. Even when there isn't a pre-identified source of funding for investments like the Resilient Florida program, you want your vulnerability assessment to inform what and where to invest next. 

Vulnerability assessments, such as those funded under the Resilient Florida program, assess various critical buildings (e.g., fire stations, police stations, emergency operation centers, hospitals) and critical infrastructure: roads, stormwater pumps, and water/wastewater infrastructure. At a minimum, they serve as an exposure assessment of which assets might be flooded under varying scenarios, resulting in potential actions to mitigate or adapt to the risk.

It's also important to consider the criticality and equity implications of flooding in order to identify the most significant risks from climate change impacts. It may also be necessary to make the economic case for investments. For example, ICF led an interdisciplinary team to understand the business case for stormwater resilience investments in Miami Beach. The study considered the effect of sea level rise and infrastructure investments on factors such as flood damages, property values, insurance premiums, tax revenues, business disruptions, and more. This study demonstrated the near- and long-term economic value of the city’s proposed public infrastructure improvements to reduce the flood risk during five- and ten-year rainstorm events. 

Plan end-to end

It’s important to think about implementation when developing a resilience plan. Recent events like Hurricanes Ian and Nicole are exposing new vulnerabilities. A prime example is the St. Augustine seawall which received $4.7 million in funding from FEMA to increase its level of protection against coastal flooding. The project was completed in 2013 and is considered a model for hazard mitigation and historic preservation. However, Hurricane Ian marked the second time it was overtopped in a major storm (the first being during Hurricane Matthew); flood waters overtopped the wall and flooded historic downtown. As the magnitude of storms increases above the design level of protection, a Category 1 storm, the current seawall design may become less effective in protecting one of the country’s oldest cities.

Flexible adaptation pathways like the ones we recently developed for the City of Coronado, California on their sea level rise adaptation plan can help avoid these situations in the future. For example, building sea walls so that they can be easily raised over time can allow cities to right-size their investments for both present and future conditions. In other words, flexible adaptation pathways allow cities to ramp up their investments as climate changes reach new trigger points rather than going for the biggest and most expensive solution right out of the gate.

Ultimately, programs such as the Resilient Florida program have the potential to usher in a watershed moment for climate resilience across the state. With careful planning and implementation, communities have an opportunity to leverage the new funding in ways that will protect them from increasingly frequent and intense extreme weather fueled by climate change.

Meet the authors
  1. Cassandra Bhat, Director, Climate Resilience

    Cassie helps clients become more resilient to changing climate and weather risks with more than 10 years of experience. View bio

  2. Ned Fernandez, Vice President, Disaster Management Mitigation Lead + ICF Climate Center Senior Fellow

    Ned is a disaster management mitigation expert with experience in resilience planning, floodplain management, grant funding, and program management. View bio

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