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Designing for a Resilient Future

Today, federal agencies are taking action to support students, educators, and professionals prepare for the impacts of climate change.

The strength and sustainability of American cities in the 21st century and beyond depends on our ability to withstand and adapt to extreme weather events and the impacts of climate change – including rising sea levels, heavy storms, and extreme heat.  Planning for climate change begins with making sure that our homes, critical infrastructure, communities, and landscapes are designed, engineered, and built for resilience.  Innovative resilient design strategies, such as elevating homes, applying hurricane and wind-resistant techniques and materials, and designing effective stormwater management systems make our communities stronger and more resilient, and improve our ability to recover quickly following a disaster. 

This month, the White House is highlighting the important role of schools in training and inspiring students who will lead the planning, design, and development of future homes, buildings, and infrastructure. In early October, the Administration included a focus on resilient design at the White House Frontiers Conference, which encouraged Americans to imagine the Nation in fifty years and beyond, and to explore frontiers that will make the world healthier, more prosperous, more equitable, and more secure.  As part of the Global track of the conference, participants discussed the importance of integrating climate science into education for design disciplines, to foster a next-generation workforce that can design a climate-smart future.  Building off that momentum, today, a coalition of 97 colleges, universities, associations, and academic centers around the country committed to ensuring that the next generation of design professionals are prepared to design and build for extreme weather events and the impacts of climate change. Read more about the commitment here. 

Federal agencies are also taking action to further resilient design among students, educators, and professionals. Today, Federal agencies announced new actions, including:

New resources on resilient design and construction for schools, educators, and design professionals:  

  • The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Infrastructure Protection will develop non-proprietary prototype curricula designed to incorporate security and resilience concepts into academic programs focused on infrastructure planning, design, construction, and maintenance.  The curricula will be publicly available to academic institutions interested in incorporating them into new or existing programs. 
  • The U.S. Department of Education will create a webpage, fact sheet, and virtual training geared toward providing severe weather resilience options for building or retrofitting K-16 educational facilities, as well as highlighting resilient design studies at U.S. institutions of higher education.  The information will be available on the Department’s school emergency management website
  • The Federal Emergency Management Agency will publish a new guide on improving natural hazard safety for schools in early 2017.  This publication will provide guidance on how to improve the safety of schools in the United States from various natural hazards, including earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, hurricanes, and tornadoes.
  • The U.S. Department of Energy will launch Guidelines for Building Sciences Education Solution Center in late 2017 featuring content on disaster resilience.  The Guidelines provide a national framework for minimum building science skill competencies across 31 different building workforce classifications.
  • The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will host a “Design Strategies for Resilience in Buildings” webinar in late 2016.  This webinar will help architects, engineers, and designers to better understand the core principles of resilience, learn the objectives of resilience when applied at the building level, and gain key insights into how resilience and sustainability can work together to meet common goals.

New resilient design opportunities for students and educators: 

  • The U.S. Department of Energy will expand its 2017 Race to Zero Student Design Competition to incorporate disaster resilience as a mandatory criterion for evaluating entries and will emphasize disaster resilience as part of its educational student webinar series in winter 2017.
  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will conduct a webinar series for universities and communities interested in exploring resilient design projects through various EPA programs, starting next month. 

New research on interdisciplinary approaches to resilient design: 

  • The DHS Science and Technology Directorate Center of Excellence for Coastal Resilience will conduct a literature review and landscape survey examining the current state-of-the-art in the science and education of resilient design, as well as identifying interdisciplinary approaches to designing to uncertainty. 
  • The National Institute of Standards and Technology-funded Center for Risk-Based Community Resilience Planning will develop a modeling tool to help assess community resilience by integrating technological, financial, and social support, healthcare delivery, education, and public administration systems and providing a quantitative and science-based approach to community resilience assessments.  

Outreach to universities and programs: 

  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture will conduct outreach to Land-Grant Universities, Historical Black Colleges and Universities, Hispanic-Serving Institutions, and Tribal Colleges to emphasize including in their curricula the importance of designing and/or retrofitting homes, schools, workplaces, and communities to be resilient to extreme weather and the impacts of climate change.
  • The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) will communicate with DOL-funded YouthBuild grantees the importance of incorporating and training youth in resilient design as part of ongoing construction training curricula, both through new construction and retrofitting rehabilitated work sites.  

Together, these efforts support students, educators, and design professionals working to advance the resilience of American communities now and in the future.

Amy Pope is Deputy Homeland Security Advisor and Deputy Assistant to the President at the National Security Council