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Cities as Innovation Centers: Investing in Resilient Infrastructure

April 24, 2018

Kevin Bush, Chief Resilience Officer, Government of the District of Columbia
Jo-Ellen Darcy, former Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, United States Army
Samantha Medlock, Senior Vice President and Head of North America Capital, Science & Policy, Willis Towers Watson
Josh Sawislak, Global Director of Resilience, AECOM
Moderated by Celeste Connors, Associate Professor of Energy, Resources and Environment

Students in the Energy, Resources and Environment (ERE) program, in partnership with the global engineering company AECOM, presented research on climate risk and resilient infrastructure for their annual practicum project. The issue is a pressing concern for experts, considering it is estimated that up to $90 trillion in new investment will be required in urban infrastructure by 2030—more than the entire value of existing urban infrastructure today. At the same time, losses due to weather-related events are rapidly increasing.

Danny Jeon, Jingwei Jia, June Choi, and Yan Fan took the stage and shared the outcome of their research. Their objective was to identify ways to materialize the benefits of infrastructure resiliency in order to create a business case and mobilize public and private funding. They explored the opportunities and challenges for investment and provided recommendations and four case studies on how coastal cities are implementing innovative solutions.

The team used data for 500 hurricanes and compared a no-investment baseline to three scenarios where investments in resilience were implemented in Miami. The investments include strategy for flood protection, installation of architecture for flood water diversion, and upgrading the aging infrastructure. The team used statistical methods to analyze the correlation of hurricanes, and concluded that in the three scenarios where resilience strategy was adopted there was a significant reduction in infrastructure damage.

Associate Professor Celeste Connors moderated the panel featuring expert practitioners discussion of how their respective agency addresses resilience. Jo-Ellen Darcy of the U.S. Army mentioned that some of today's aging infrastructure will not pass resilience tests. Kevin Bush of the Government of the District of Columbia described his agency's efforts to develop a resilience strategy. 

Samantha Medlock of Willis Towers Watson, said resilience begins and ends with good data and risk analytics. The better that we can understand the current state of strength or relative vulnerability of a given asset, the better we can translate that risk into a language the insurance market can understand. She said that the potential for a public private partnership is very promising.

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