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Protecting communities from potential impacts of climate change

Given recent international turmoil, climate change may seem like a second-tier priority. In fact, climate change may be accelerating instability in vulnerable areas of the world. There is a growing number of military, intelligence and security leaders who are expressing concern about climate change and weather events as a national security threat. The Pentagon recently released a 2014 Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap, which states that climate change poses an “immediate risk” to national security, and puts forth a strategy for addressing this risk across the military.   

Not only abroad, but also here at home, critical infrastructure is at risk. United States military installations located in increasingly arid locations throughout the country face drought and wildfire risks that disrupt training and undermine readiness. At Fort Hood in Texas, live fire training was suspended for so long that base commanders were forced to drench ranges with water from helicopters. 

{mosads}Military commanders recognize that it does not matter how resilient a base is if the roads leading to the base are completely flooded or if the entire area is suffering a power outage because an off-base electrical substation is submerged. Whether in Norfolk, New Orleans or New York, storms and weather events appear to have increasing strength and will have continued negative effects on our critical infrastructure and our way of life. 

Recently, representatives from the National Security Council and the Navy joined local government officials, business owners and academics to announce a pilot project to develop a comprehensive approach to community resilience – an excellent approach to tackling this cross-sector issue. Potential effects are not just a threat to our national security, but they could have adverse economic impacts as well.  It is imperative that communities plan together to develop resilient infrastructure to address those impacts. 

Over the past year, a group of governors, mayors, county and tribal officials met regularly to develop recommendations on how the federal government can help their communities become more resilient. The task force’s recommendations can help build resilient communities through actions like providing the tools and resources needed for local and county leaders to do appropriate planning. Funding is necessary for programs to develop advanced mapping data and tools, to make the coasts more resilient, and to invest in the nation’s electric and energy system.   

Resilient local power resources to support critical assets like emergency call centers or fire departments are also necessary. Investing in infrastructure and distributed energy can help communities develop microgrids that allow them to operate independently from the grid. For instance, during Hurricane Sandy, Princeton University was able to disconnect itself from the electrical grid and continue to operate when neighboring towns lacked sufficient power. These microgrids with localized clean power sources can provide communities with resilient power.   

The City of Houston and State of Colorado are launching “Preparedness Pilots” in cooperation with NASA’s Johnson Space Flight Center and the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory. These pilots will help federal agencies better understand how to coordinate with local communities to assess and plan for their region-specific vulnerabilities and interdependencies associated with the potential impacts of climate change – an important first step.  

More communities across the country need to become proactive and work with local planning boards, elected officials and others to ensure our water and energy infrastructure can withstand the potential effects of weather-related events. Although the federal government can provide critical planning tools and expertise that can be replicated by other local communities, all levels of government must invest adequately in infrastructure programs that will enhance our nation’s adaptability to any future potential threats posed by climate change and weather events. 

We must supplement the work underway to further reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by preparing for the potential effects of climate change to minimize long-term damage. Together we must protect our communities, develop and invest in resilient infrastructure, and ensure the health and safety of our friends and families. 

Powers is an Iraq veteran, former Obama administration official and managing director of federal energy with Bloom Energy. Hébert is a former FERC chairman appointed by President George W. Bush, partner with The Brunini Firm and visiting scholar at the Bipartisan Policy Center.

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