May 17, 2018 2:15 PM, EDT

Municipalities Tasked With Climate-Resilient Infrastructure, FEMA Says

Superstorm Sandy A man walks through floodwaters in Hoboken, N.J., on Oct. 30, 2012, after Superstorm Sandy. (Emile Wamsteker/Bloomberg)

WASHINGTON — Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Brock Long said although the agency takes into account rising seas when preparing for disasters, advancing resilient infrastructure projects begins at municipalities.

“I do believe that the key to resiliency is at the local level of government — not with FEMA,” Long said at the kickoff of Infrastructure Week on May 14. “If you’re dependent on FEMA to make your community resilient, well that’s the wrong approach because so much of what we have is reactive to the disasters.”

Infrastructure Week is marked nationally by education and advocacy events that highlight the state of roads, bridges, rails, ports, airports and more.

Brock Long


The frequency of severe weather events in recent years, specifically along coastal regions and islands, has destroyed freight and passenger corridors built decades ago. FEMA and the U.S. Department of Transportation have provided emergency funds to those local governments.

At a separate panel hosted by the National Association of Counties, Shoshana Lew, chief operating officer of the Rhode Island Department of Transportation, suggested determining the most efficient role technology plays in responding to environmental threats.

“There’s a sort of tendency to think about new, innovative technologies as being better for the environment, a tendency to think of autonomy and electrification in the same breath. That could be. It is not necessarily the case,” Lew said on May 15. “And again, it’s a space where we have to think about how we are trying to achieve these ends and how we sort of steer them in a way that complements.”

Prior to her tenure in Rhode Island, Lew was the chief financial officer at the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The destruction of roadways and transit systems after hurricanes and subsequent flooding has prompted key policymakers to consider rebuilding transportation grids capable of withstanding Mother Nature’s force.

Infrastructure Week

Democrats on Capitol Hill, from districts where infrastructure systems could be vulnerable to rising sea levels, are engaging in debate about ways to build climate-resilient infrastructure. Last fall, the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus in the House added six members. The caucus is dedicated to exploring policies that would assess the impact of the changing climate.

“As a New Yorker, I was there five years ago when Superstorm Sandy devastated our city. Now, this year, an unprecedented set of hurricanes have hit Houston, Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands,” said Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.). “I believe climate change will present mounting challenges in the years ahead.”

“By working together across party lines, we’re leading the fight to reduce our carbon footprint, create well-paying clean energy jobs, and support research that addresses the threat to our communities,” added Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.). “Florida must continue to lead the way in the development of alternative and renewable energies, and I’m working to ensure our beautiful state lives up to its full potential.”