Resilient Infrastructure Policy

What is resilient infrastructure policy?

Climate-resilient infrastructure incorporates climate risk and vulnerability into infrastructure-related evaluation, planning, and decision-making to protect the nation’s significant investment in infrastructure, reduce long-term costs, and safeguard people, economies and the environment. For example, during and after natural disasters the sustained function of infrastructure strongly influences consequences for public safety and health, the economy, and national security. Also, as conditions such as the frequency and severity of extreme weather events changes, resilient infrastructure will require less time and money for maintenance, repair, and retrofits. The Federal government has recently taken several steps to increase infrastructure resilience, such as the Water Resources Development Act, and the Disaster Recovery Reform Act of 2018. Existing rules and regulations promoting climate-resilient infrastructure require support and funding for effective implementation.  A key question is what additional rules and regulations are needed to address resilience in other elements of the infrastructure ecosystem such as funding and project related to housing and urban development, agriculture, telecommunications, and the energy grid.

How does resilient infrastructure policy work?

Resilient infrastructure policies can include a mix of components, such as:

  • Federal minimum resilient design standards that address known climate risks over the full lifecycle of a project, from design to build to decommissioning.
  • A cost-benefit analysis approach that is aligned across Federal agencies and includes consideration of costs and benefits for the entire project lifecycle, including maintenance, repair, remodel, upgrade, and decommissioning costs.
  • Metrics, guidance, and training for screening and scoring infrastructure on resilience, robustness, and adaptability that can inform design; help to prioritize funding, permitting, and implementation’ and reflect economic, social, and environmental sustainability, resilience, and equitability.
  • Clear and concise best practices and lessons learned, including examples, to support the design, implementation, and maintenance of resilient infrastructure projects.
  • For FEMA disaster mitigation and recovery funds, requiring recipients to upgrade design methods to reflect current and future risks rather than simply replacing in kind.
  • Periodic high-level infrastructure vulnerability assessments by each Federal agency with infrastructure responsibilities to support planning, design, and decision-making
  • Guidance for considering critical lifeline systems, not just individual components, in design and prioritization within systemwide vulnerability and risk assessments.

Key design considerations

What climate risks are addressed? Should the focus be on risks that are easier to quantify, such as changes in precipitation or temperature, or should large but less quantifiable risks such as the effect of increasingly severe wildfires on runoff be addressed as well? Will regulations and guidance address only climate change effects on the infrastructure itself, or include the infrastructure’s role in the vulnerability or resilience of other structures, communities, economies, and species to climate-related hazards?

Should approaches to resilience be the same for all sectors and infrastructure types, or is it better to develop policies, regulations, guidance and tools targeting specific categories of infrastructure? If the latter, what steps should the government take to harmonize approaches? Should approaches be developed on an agency-by-agency basis? How much leeway should be granted for local or regional conditions and knowledge?

What is the best approach for managing uncertainty? Should the government require a generic safety margin as the United Kingdom does for water-related infrastructure? Require that projects be evaluated against two or more scenarios of change? Change the design events (e.g. from a 25-year event to a 50-year event) to decrease risk?

Should policies be tailored to emphasize resistance to change, resilience across a wide array of conditions, or adaptability?

Which resilience approaches should be mandatory? Should regulations mandate which climate scenarios or projections to use, and how many?

U.S. Experience

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was the first Federal agency to incorporate sealevel rise into its work, and has continued to develop, revise, and update policies, regulation, and guidance addressing sea level rise in planning. This includes considering sensitivity to both historic and higher rates of sea level rise as early as 2000. Updated policy and guidance was issued following Hurricane Katrina requiring that all of the Corps’ civil works projects in tidally influenced areas use at least three scenarios of future sea level rise to evaluate project robustness, followed by technical guidance on adapting new and existing USACE projects to sea level rise. Most recently, the Corps released a ~300-page Engineering Pamphlet on evaluating impacts, responses, and adaptation to sea level change. Building on their experience with sea level rise, the Corps has also released guidance for incorporating climate change impacts on inland hydrology in Civil Works studies, designs, and projects.

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has engaged in ongoing efforts to develop, test, and improve guidance and best practices for climate adaptation in the transportation sector. This includes more than two dozen pilot projects in partnership with state and local transportation agencies, and the Transportation Engineering Approaches to Climate Resiliency project. All this supports the development and revision of FHWA’s Vulnerability Assessment and Adaptation Framework, now in its third edition. In addition to discussing how to assess vulnerability and develop and prioritize adaptation options, the Framework provides guidance on obtaining necessary data and incorporating results into decision-making for transportation planning, project development and environmental review, project level design and engineering, transportation systems management and operations, maintenance, emergency management, and asset management.

Additional Resources

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