By Julia Nesheiwat
As a Floridian and the state’s first chief resilience officer, a position created by Gov. Ron DeSantis, I have seen firsthand how rising seas, extreme heat and stronger hurricane seasons are impacting infrastructure and our ability to safely work and play.
South Florida residents in particular are all too familiar with the direct threat that climate change poses to the region’s way of life. But with challenges also come opportunity, and South Florida is seizing it.
Climate change has been called a threat multiplier because of its ability to exacerbate existing challenges while creating new ones. The war in Ukraine has laid bare the connections between geopolitics and higher prices for gas, but it has also underscored the delicate issues around food and water security and supply chains.
From climate migration to increases in severe weather, and stormwater treatment and wastewater disposal, there are no shortages of climate challenges affecting Floridians from inside and outside the state.
While the solutions may seem out of reach, there are plenty of reasons for optimism that can be found in our own backyard. South Florida is setting the standard for how to tackle climate change by creating new positions that focus on specific threats and hazards. Miami-Dade County has just installed its first chief bay officer to focus on water quality, as well as the world’s first chief heat officer, to tackle heat issues — the leading cause of weather related deaths in the U.S.
Similarly, Miami-Dade County’s recently released Resilient 305 strategy not only demonstrates the region’s commitment to effectively addressing the risks of climate change, but it also illustrates that the South Florida region is in the vanguard of municipalities in the U.S. thinking creatively and collaboratively about climate resilience.
I recently attended the American Flood Coalition Mayors’ Summit on flooding and sea-level rise, where I heard from local mayors and regional leaders. They are developing resilience plans within their communities that recognize the risks and realities of this persistent and evolving threat and are committed to being better prepared for the increasing occurrence of shocks and mitigating stresses by sharing best practices.
To demonstrate South Florida’s leadership even further, the South Florida Regional Planning Council and the South Florida Defense Alliance were recently awarded a significant amount of funding from the Department of Defense (DOD) to conduct a Military Installation Resilience Review (MIRR).
Funded by DOD’s Office of Local Defense Community Cooperation, MIRR studies typically focus on the communities just outside of a specific military base. In South Florida, the study will primarily cover four military installations:
- Homestead Air Reserve Base
- United States Army Garrison-Miami
- USN Naval Surface War Center South Florida Ocean Measurement Facility
- United States Naval Air Station Key West
The overarching goal of the MIRR is to “identify the risks, hazards and vulnerabilities of concern as it relates to the ability of the military to carry out its missions on the bases that could be mitigated through investments and solutions outside of the fence line in the surrounding communities.”
Once complete, the MIRR will help secure funding for projects recommended in the review.
The South Florida project is special for many reasons, but its focus on resilient installations can help set a new standard for cooperation and collaboration across the U.S. Likewise, as DOD considers the establishment of a Joint Resiliency Center for Excellence, South Florida is, again, positioned to lead the nation.
Presently, there is no single node within DOD for integrating inter-related and inter-dependent climate related issues. There is a critical need for a holistic examination of the strategic, operational and infrastructure risks to our national security, and this Joint Resiliency Center would help us gain a greater understanding of climate-driven challenges and their implications.
South Florida is uniquely positioned to facilitate a unified approach through its robust network of civic and academic leadership, native resiliency industry and existing presence of national security agencies and key inter-agency stakeholders.
As Congress increasingly directs DOD to take resiliency seriously, and the department, in turn, takes action to effectively diagnose the problem and prescribe solutions, policymakers should recognize where progress has been made by innovative local- and state-level actors.
While climate impacts persist, South Florida has seized the opportunity and should be proud of the progress it has made so far to build resilience, set the standard and enhance our national security. Challenge will come, but our future is nothing but bright.
Dr. Julia Nesheiwat served as Florida’s first chief resilience officer. She was later appointed as Deputy Assistant to President Trump for Homeland Security and Resilience. She also served in the Obama and Bush administrations
This piece was first published in the South Florida Sun Sentinel, which is a member of the Invading Sea collaborative.