An interview with Jason Bird, Florida Resilience Lead at Jacobs Engineering Group
As part of its series “The Business of Climate Change,” which highlights the climate views of business men and women throughout the state, The Invading Sea spoke with Jason Bird, Florida Resilience Practice Leader and U.S. South Water Resources Solutions Lead with Jacobs Engineering Group.
Here are some highlights from the interview.
First, can you briefly discuss your work with Jacobs in Florida?
As the Florida Resilience Lead, I bring my expertise in natural hazard and climate resilience to enhance long-term performance of infrastructure in the face of climate uncertainty.
At Jacobs, we take a holistic look at all natural, climate, and man-made hazards to inform project planning and design, which ultimately reduces the cost of ownership for our clients. Our approach focuses on operational continuity via an all-hazard risk reduction and enhanced system reliability.
We are currently working with numerous public and private-sector clients here in Florida and beyond to identify and mitigate current and future risks through comprehensive and forward-looking planning, design, and operations.
You’re also involved with the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction’s ARISE network. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
I was elected as the ARISE US Network chair, which I served from 2019 to 2020. A new board was elected earlier this year, which is being led by Dr. Peter Williams, former IBM chief innovation officer.
Jacobs continues to be involved as a member of ARISE, which is focused on disaster risk reduction and resilience for private sector through public sector collaboration and knowledge sharing.
Building on the Sendai Framework, ARISE employs a robust framework to evaluate risk and identify adaptation actions. This organization is free to join and offers a vast network of industry leaders working toward common goals, sharing lessons learned, and providing open-sourced tools and resources to reduce disaster risk.
From your point of view, what are the most critical issues that Florida communities and businesses need to address for sustainability and resiliency?
Over the past decade much of the climate planning and investment has occurred at the local government level. However, in recent years significant strides have been gained at the state level under the direction of Governor DeSantis, such as a state CRO, the new Office of Resilience and Coastal Protection at FDEP, and new legislation requiring a sea-level rise study.
(That’s) called a SLIP study, for state-funded projects, as well as recent announcements around significant funding—potentially up to a billion dollars—focused on helping communities mitigate coastal flood and severe storm risk, which every year costs our state billions of dollars from severe weather impacts.
These elements, coupled with awareness, is very important for us as a state. The most critical opportunity I see related to resilience is the need for regulatory state agencies to adapt a clear and forward-looking stance on climate risk and develop guidance and policy to drive local government actions, recognizing that there’s been a lot done in recent years but there’s still a long way to go.
What’s your outlook on where things stand in Florida? How difficult will it be for us to achieve resilience?
I think it’s very possible. We have the technology, the knowledge, the skills. We know what needs to be done.
It’s just a matter of moving into a position where we begin to execute what we know and execute our plans. With significant state and federal funding available in the next few years, it’s a tremendous opportunity for us to be bold with our actions.
We can’t continue to rely on the regulations to dictate minimum design criteria. We need to move beyond that, recognizing that many of these policies are focused on historic conditions rather than future conditions that the infrastructure will experience during its design life.
Making this paradigm shift requires clear and concise guidance related to the use of future projections with the regulatory environment, especially considering the uncertainty of the future conditions and the concerns for the added cost associated with them.
We are moving in this direction. The pace of change is very slow, and we hope to help accelerate that and move it forward to ensure that we don’t miss out on the opportunities for the investment coming.
What can the Florida Legislature do to help?
The new Office of Resilience and the actions at the state level are all positioning very well to help support these challenges in the coming years. The state can greatly benefit from having model codes and policies, very clear guidance on the use of future projections and conditions such as sea-level rise, future rainfall intensities and volumes, and their application toward project planning and design as soon as possible, ideally in advance of the upcoming infrastructure spending bills.
By making a clear shift from planning and design based on historic conditions to a more forward-looking stance …. we stand a much better chance at being prepared for future severe weather events. This preparation will reduce insurance claims and property losses and position Florida to bounce forward after each storm event.
Also, additional education and financial incentive programs could help to communicate the responsibility each and every property owner has in understanding and mitigating their own risk, which will begin to build a collaborative environment between the public and private sector, where homeowners and business owners and communities can work together.
This collaboration, in my opinion, is critical to elevating the risk reduction and resilience of entire communities because a community is only as strong as its weakest link and if every part of that community isn’t uplifted and working together toward common goals, then there will continue to be risks that are not addressed. With all these parties working together, we’ll be able to achieve a resilient Florida.
Kevin Mims, a Florida-based freelance journalist, is the producer of “The Business of Climate Change.” He conducted this interview with Ms. Hammack.
“The Invading Sea” is the opinion arm of the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a collaborative of news organizations across the state.