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Chief Resilience Offices Could Enhance Climate Preparedness

As climate hazards—including floods, storms, wildfires, and rising sea levels—become increasingly catastrophic, building up resilience is critical to protect the health, safety, housing, and economic vitality of communities across the nation. Historically, governments have focused narrowly on post-disaster response without sufficient planning and capacity-building for future hazards, but recent efforts to create Chief Resilience Offices (CROs), at all levels of government, are attempting to change that.

What is a Chief Resilience Office?

A CRO serves as a leading entity for coordinating efforts across government agencies to mitigate risks and protect both communities and the environment. Resilience efforts at the local, state, and federal level require smooth interagency collaboration to implement comprehensive plans leveraging the capacity of multiple departments. Such coordination works best when a single entity is tasked with leading implementation of the plan, as government efforts are too often inefficient and siloed between agencies. The CRO typically works with a wide breadth of stakeholders to develop a resiliency strategy.

CROs are not an entirely new concept. The Rockefeller Foundation formed the 100 Resilient Cities program in 2013 and gave two years of seed funding for cities to hire their own Chief Resilience Officers, including most major cities in the U.S. However, maintaining these offices without stable funding has been expensive and difficult. Twelve states have created CROs through executive order or legislation—Maryland being the most recent, establishing a CRO in May. Other states do not use the title Chief Resilience Officer but have offices in place to carry out similar missions.

 

Examples of State CROs

Existing state CROs have profoundly enhanced statewide disaster preparedness and offer examples of what CROs entail and the benefits they can provide:

  • Colorado: The Colorado Resiliency Office builds community resilience by working to identify needs and best practices and then dispense appropriate guidance and technical assistance. Through its Roadmap Program, Colorado’s CRO brings together 16 regional community teams, made up of local public and private partners, to identify shared regional priorities to implement over two-year periods. The Colorado CRO also has a program focused on rural resiliency, including grant funding and workshops. To provide guidance and technical assistance, the CRO provides their staff directory of hands-on assistance, hosts workshops and monthly virtual exchanges for local leaders to collaborate and publishes resource pages for wildfire recovery.
  • North Carolina: The North Carolina Resiliency Office provides support through two agency-led programs. The Regions Innovating for Strong Economies and Environment (RISE) program provides communities in storm-impacted regions with technical assistance to assess vulnerabilities, hosts regional leadership training workshops, and develops a community resiliency guide. The Resilient Coastal Communities Program (RCCP) helps local governments to build resiliency to coastal hazards by prioritizing community engagement, supporting risk and vulnerability assessments, and developing and implementing key resiliency projects.

Recent Legislation to Establish CROs

Two bipartisan bills, introduced this Congress, aim to promote CROs—one to support state offices and one to create a federal CRO:

  1. H.R. 7178, the Champion Local Efforts to Advance Resiliency (CLEAR) Act: The CLEAR Act would create a program at HUD to provide grants to states and tribal nations to establish and maintain their own CROs. Among their duties, the state or tribe’s CRO would need to develop a resiliency framework—prioritizing and engaging disadvantaged communities in the process—and update it every five years. These frameworks would identify current and projected climate risks to the environment, economy, infrastructure, housing, and health of a community. Reps. Jason Crow (D-CO) and David Rouzer (R-NC) introduced the bill in March 2022.
  2. H.R. 6461/S. 3531, the National Climate Adaptation and Resiliency Strategy (NCARS) Act: The NCARS Act would establish a National Chief Resilience Officer in the White House and require the development of a whole-of-government National Climate Adaptation and Resilience Strategy (and updates every three years) as well as an Implementation Plan. The bill also authorizes up to five interagency resilience working groups and a non-federal Partners Council, where members from frontline communities must be represented, to the support the Chief Resilience Officer in assessing climate change vulnerabilities and supporting climate resilience and adaptation recommendations. Sens. Chris Coons (D-DE) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) in the Senate, and Reps. Scott Peters (D-CA) and María Salazar (R-FL) in the House, sponsored the legislation.

Paired together, the two pieces of legislation present an opportunity to establish a national resiliency framework, where state-level CROs could complement and collaborate with federal resilience efforts, and better promote a culture of disaster preparedness. A federal CRO could leverage federal capacity and resources to work with and provide guidance to CROs in all 50 states—who best know the needs of their residents—to ensure communities across the nation are better prepared for climate disasters in the coming years.

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