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Helping Small Communities for more than 30 years

Sustainable Communities

The Resilient Communities Initiative

A West Virginia and regionally focused initiative to improve community resilience in response to hazardous events and increase economic development potential of small and rural communities.

The Resilient Communities Initiative (RCI) is an element of the Energy and Community Resilience Programs and Initiatives at West Virginia University within the broader resiliency programs of the Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development.

Introduction

Community resilience is a goal of the current administration and federal agencies for ensuring that infrastructure and environments degrade gracefully and that vital services are restored quickly when a disaster happens. There is growing recognition among planners at all levels that not everything can be protected from disasters, and that building community resilience before disaster strikes helps with recovery and restoration of essential services when calamities occur. Small communities and rural areas receive fewer resources for preparedness planning than urban areas. These communities are often characterized by isolation and poverty, and they typically lack basic services enjoyed by their metropolitan counterparts. Their residents are focused on day-to-day necessities and are less likely to be concerned about the potential of a hazardous event.

To engage small and rural communities in building resilience, services need to be customized to their unique needs and circumstances and must be provided to them before an adverse event. Resilience planning benefits the communities and their residents—and the region and states in which they are located—helping in preparedness planning and asset management. Without resiliency planning, small and rural communities often become both victims and liabilities in a catastrophic event.

Program Description

West Virginia University (WVU), in cooperation with West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety and the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory, have developed a Resilient Communities Initiative (RCI) to help West Virginia’s small and rural communities become more resilient and better able to withstand and recover from human-made and natural disasters. Helping communities become resilient has an economic benefit because resilient communities are more attractive locations for business development and, therefore, more economically viable.

Participants at WVU include individuals, programs and centers from: the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences; the College of Engineering and Mineral Resources; the Davis College of Agriculture, Forestry and Consumer Science; the College of Business and Economics; the National Research Center for Coal and Energy; the School of Medicine; and, the Office for Research and Economic Development.

A catastrophe in the national capital region is an example of an event that would impact West Virginia’s small and rural communities. West Virginia Corridor H, which follows U.S. Route 33, has been identified as a potential evacuation route for the capital region. Corridor H is not complete and its ongoing development as part of the National Highway System, its mix of isolated rural areas and small communities, and the potential socio-economic impacts to the corridor communities point to the need for a resilience improvement program for this area that would benefit West Virginia and the region. Working with federal, state, regional and local partners, RCI will help provide guidance and expertise on technologies, leadership, research, and policy recommendations to improve community resilience.

Technical Approach and Deliverables

Through multidisciplinary research, education, technical assistance and outreach programs, RCI’s goal is to improve the resilience of small communities, rural areas and small cities in the face of disruptive events, such as human-made or natural disasters. For example, RCI has an indexing methodology under development that can be used by communities to evaluate their resilience status. RCI plans to create additional resilience assessment tools and implement a resilience improvement program addressing four critical areas:

    • 1. Socio-economic systems in rural communities and small cities
    • 2. Infrastructure systems
    • 3. Institutional/governmental systems
    • 4. Community resilience technical assistance and outreach

The RCI project incorporates development of two initial projects with activities of special interest to the State of West Virginia:

    • 1. Conduct an assessment of the suitability of Corridor H as an evacuation route from the national capital region. Aspects of the study include determining roadway carrying capacity, identifying resources to support an evacuation along the route, identifying roadway improvements and upgrades for the corridor as an evacuation route, indentifying impacts of an evacuation on the corridor communities, and identifying the socio-economic benefits from preparing the corridor as an evacuation route.

 

  • 2. Design and develop a community outreach, assessment and technical assistance program customized specifically for improving the resilience of small and rural communities including:
    • a planning tool for assessing the resilience status of small cities and rural communities, and
    • a planning tool to assess the cost/benefit of relocating a community to reduce or avoid the social and capital costs of rebuilding communities in locations that repeatedly experience disasters.

 

Expected Results

The primary result of this project will be improvement in the overall resilience of the pilot communities and their region. We anticipate that results experienced by the pilot communities will be transferrable to other regions. The project will include a results dissemination strategy to facilitate such a transfer.

Communication methodologies, informational materials, messaging techniques and a toolbox that will guide communities in their efforts are also planned outputs of the project. It is expected that a greater degree of public understanding of resilience and acceptance of resilience building measures will be achieved, thereby increasing community economic development opportunities.

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