Close-knit Communities Fare Better in Extreme Weather
By: Kristin Kelleher, Programs Director
In striving towards a more secure and resilient future, we must acknowledge the vulnerabilities of our local businesses when it comes to climate impacts. These communities are at the foundation of our economic vitality and need our support.
Our Businesses Acting on Rising Seas (BARS) Campaign deployed teams to talk to local businesses about how they are preparing for climate change impacts and together we explored the resources and tools they need to better adapt. This is an excerpt from our 2018 Businesses Acting on Rising Seas Report, released in March. Click here to further explore our findings, and hear the stories of business owners who are facing the first impacts of climate change.
Building Community Enhances Resilience
Collective consciousness, attachment to place, loyalty toward communities, and a sense of inclusion, have proven to be instrumental factors in successful resilience solutions. With social cohesion and a sense of trust, along with direction on how to adapt to climate change, studies show there is a greater chance that communities will make the connection to the causes of climate change, thereby enhancing their mitigative as well as adaptive capacity. Many business leaders we spoke with during our campaign that had undergone significant physical damage as a result of storms worked within their towns and community groups to promote recovery efforts, seek funding, and support other individuals within the business community. This mentality will give communities a greater chance to withstand traumas, return to the affected areas and rebuild — further increasing the success of the recovery.
Social Capital & Established Networks
The ability to successfully adapt to potential and future climate changes are in part determined by collective community action and interdependence between different groups and actors. Social capital, therefore, plays an integral role when thinking about resilience to change in the face of new threats. Daniel Aldrich, Director of the Security and Resilience Program at Northeastern University, defines social capital as “the connections between individuals that allow them to easily work collectively, share norms, and exchange information.” It is the ties and bonds among individuals and groups in a community, which in times of stress can be used as a support system to facilitate recovery.
Studies have found that in the aftermath of a disaster, social capital and established networks serve as essential links in a resilient community, and can determine not just survival rates, but the success of recovery after shocks or stresses to the system. A resilient community is one that is able to deal with unpredicted shocks in an efficient way, and able to return to a state of normalcy through collective action. It is oftentimes assumed that preparing for climate impacts and potential pre-disaster mitigation is the sole burden of municipalities, however, research shows that strengthening social capital and working on social cohesion can have an instrumental role in helping a community before and after a climate event.
Data from around the world supports the conclusion that building social, rather than physical infrastructure holds the key to resilience — whether that be from extreme weather, terrorism, or any other type of shock. While it may seem like an elusive, almost imaginary concept, it turns out that social capital is not only real, but it is a quantifiable resource that has been proven to save lives in times of disaster and create communities better able to recover after a disturbance.
SCITUATE SANDBAGS: A Story from the Businesses Acting on Rising Seas Report
Front Street in Scituate is prone to chronic flooding. During our Businesses Acting on Rising Seas Campaign, we spoke with 27 local businesses in Scituate. We found that the community as a whole acknowledged that their downtown is at risk for serious damage from creeping floodwaters. Businesses are vulnerable to damages from storm surges and high tides, which can cause lasting structural damage. Water damage can lead to continued dampness, causing mold, and salt water can corrode. We spoke with businesses that have individual plans to keep their goods and materials out of harm’s way.
“Yes, last year we flooded twice. Those two storms in January and then two weeks after. We lost power — it completely shut me down for like, two weeks. I lost my computer. Now we raise everything up; I have my computer on bread crates, and everything’s up and if we hear there is a flood coming, even a higher tide, I bring in all my tables and we put everything up.” – Lisa, Flowers and Festivities
At Finer Things, a local antique shop, they also moved valuables to higher elevations.
“We did have a storm, but my husband and I had to put everything up on pieces of wood. The rug got saturated underneath the door all the way to the back stairs. We ended up moving furniture and then we knocked out half the wall because we were afraid mold and mildew might appear because it got soaked. It really got soaked. The landlord paid for it all and fixed the damages as quickly as possible.
It hindered our business for three weeks in March. Who’s going to come in when the place is a mess and the guys are working. It was very loud, and I know the places next door even had worse damage.” – Susan, Co-owner of Finer Things
While individual plans are important, the business community and the entire town has come together in Scituate to focus on low-cost, easy-lift measures that are bringing different groups across town together to prevent the floodwaters from entering into the shops.
Local businesses had incurred negative impacts from the first storm, and stories of the physical damage to shops across town came across the desk of Chief Murphy at the Fire Department.
“After seeing damages from the January 2018 storm, we took action as a community. At the Fire Department, we spearheaded an initiative to bring sandbags to vulnerable businesses and residents along Front Street, our center of commerce in town. We reached out to the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA), explained the situation, and they donated bags to create sandbags. Sandbags can reduce the impact of water damage in the event of the flood. We then worked with the local Department of Public Works to acquire the sand, equipment, and shovels. Saint Mary’s, a local Catholic Church, became our hub where we filled sandbags in their parking lot. The entire community came to support this effort, with AmeriCorps volunteers as well as familiar faces in the business community, and at the high school. In just over a day and a half, we filled and distributed over 1,000 sandbags.”
These sandbags are beneficial to businesses and help them prepare for future storms.
“I keep the sandbags right in the back for the next storm. Everybody else put a lot of sandbags out [in preparation for the second storm]. The first time no- body was ready because they didn’t see it coming.” – Local business owner based in Scituate Harbor for over 50 years
We are going to be experiencing even more frequent flooding events, and we have to take more proactive steps, especially for the businesses on Front Street. We are now applying for an Emergency Preparedness Grant sponsored by MEMA to put towards [our] own sand bagging machine that can fill 600 sandbags an hour so we can keep this operation going and prepare for future storms. We are also investing in a dewatering pump with that is 100% supported from [a] grant from the Department of Fire Services spearheaded by State Senator Patrick O’Connor that can remove water from neighborhoods that have drainage concerns. MEMA is further helping us improve our resiliency by expanding our sheltering capabilities, and training more local volunteers to prepare for emergency events, like the Blizzard of ‘78 or a hurricane.” – Chief Murphy of the Scituate Fire Department
Businesses and community members across different groups, from the Fire Department to the high school, to the church, and businesses along vulnerable Front Street all look out for each other. Not only did the community work together to source a solution to protect vulnerable main street businesses, they also help each other after the storm. Rudolph Adamo Salon mentioned that their beautiful sign was blown off its hinges during the last storm, and it landed down the street. Their friends at Galley Kitchen picked up the sign and returned it to their neighbors. This sense of community among business owners is critical in remaining resilient. While in this occasion it was distributing sandbags, the ties locals have built with MEMA to acquire resources as well as the bonds among the business community, the Fire Department, the church, and the high school will prove to be helpful in future emergencies.
Disaster Recovery & Collective Action
Professor Aldrich’s research has found that recovery is not only measured by the amount of disaster relief funding given to a community, but it can also be measured by social bonds in the region. Organization among different social groups can spread important information to official networks coordinating disaster recovery through policy makers and powerful figures who have the in uence to benefit communities in need. People and communities with greater social ties are therefore more likely to survive climate-related events, as well as return to the flooded or damaged areas after a disaster, thereby accelerating the recovery process. Individuals or families with strong ties can draw on ‘informal insurance’ networks to acquire critical resources such as food, water, and assistance with childcare when formal systems may be out of service.
Interdependence between social capital and government support systems can also bring about faster recovery by creating networks in conjunction with governmental actors at the state or town level to distribute much-needed resources and information. Collective action in addressing changes also helps business owners when stressful shocks occur. Social organizations — like church groups collecting money for a local business that shut down after a storm, as well as ties that are established through social organizations (where individuals of different cultures and socio-economic groups work together) can lead to greater cooperation in business resiliency. Local residents both serve as immediate first responders and long-term caregivers. From the moment after a disaster and in the follow- ing months, social systems are immediately available to communities and prove to be helpful. In this instance, the business community can be framed through the lens of ecological systems, where the networks and connections between suppliers, producers, and stakeholders mimic those of natural processes. They continuously evolve to meet challenges, and some local business owners and managers may emerge as leaders. These leaders act in a “mutually supportive” environment, calling attention to the interdependence within the business community, and potentially serving as powerful gurus after a disaster, connecting their municipality with needed resources.
SOCIAL NETWORKS INCREASE A COMMUNITY’S RESILIENCE to natural disasters and other events.
INTERCONNECTIONS BETWEEN THE GOVERNMENT AND SOCIAL AND BUSINESS CAPITAL can lead to reduced recovery time.
Businesses with strong ties to their communities and DIRECT EXPERIENCE WITH EXTREME WEATHER EVENTS ARE MORE LIKELY TO GET INVOLVED IN SOCIAL GROUPS, allowing them to better prepare for future climate change impacts and recover after events have occurred, making them more resilient.
MARINAS OF ESSEX: A Story from the Businesses Acting on Rising Seas Report
In Essex, Massachusetts, the Causeway is the town’s main street and center of commerce. During the January and March 2018 storms, it completely ooded and had to shut down to car traffic. The slew of marine-based businesses that are peppered throughout the causeway had particular concerns, one of which was protecting the boats stored in their yards.
“The first one [January storm] is when we had the icebergs about the size of cars. Two feet thick. It came up all around the boats and the area where we store the boats.” – Local marine owner along the Causeway
“I have boats stored all along the sea wall, and I lost quite a bit of sleep during each of those storms in fear of those boats floating away due to the rising tide, and now it’s making me rethink how I’m going to store those boats this winter. The last thing I want to do is call one of my customers and say, ‘Sorry your $200,000 boat just floated away.’ That’s not the phone call I want to make.” – Curt, the owner of Essex Marina
Perkins Marine and Essex Marina, both located on the Causeway, are in constant communication during extreme weather events, keeping a close watch for high tides and storm surges, in order to protect their property.
During the January 2018 winter storm Curt, his employees, and friends were out in waders in frigid water, pushing against the river’s current to lift the boats in the yard higher on their stilts to keep them from floating away. While Curt’s dedication and true friends kept all of the boats in his yard, Cape Ann Stand Up Paddle Board (SUP) was not as lucky. Cape Ann SUP has a shipping-storage container on the Essex Marina property where they launch their clients on their paddle boards. The water rose so high and the current was so fierce that the entire shipping container floated away and ended up in Perkin’s Marine down the river.
Scott at Perkins Marine on the Causeway reached out to Curt to conceive a plan to recapture to the shipping container before it took on too much water and began to sink. With their collective machinery and Perkins Marine’s traveling crane, they shed out the shipping container, loaded it onto a atbread truck and towed it back to its home within the Essex Marina boat yard. This an essential base for Cape Ann SUP’s business continuity.
While the local marinas are taking the necessary steps to adjust their infrastructure within their boat- yards to mitigate any further concerns in winters to come, this incident is a key example of how they came together, and showed leadership.
“That particular incident is just people helping other people, which is awesome. That’s when you see peoples’ colors shine with who comes out to help. I was very grateful to have some good people here to help out for that storm. Because like I said, it was pretty extreme, the most extreme storm I’ve seen in my lifetime, and I’m 50 years old. It’s going to happen again so you have to live and learn.” – Curt
When communities can take control of their resilience, this promotes a communal sense of belonging that can support cooperative policy planning that will lead to long-term well-being. The good news is that investing in people and communities is less expensive than building massive seawalls or levees, which will also most likely not be enough to protect our cities. Investing in social capital also means bridging some of the social inequities that plague our communities and remedying racial and social justice issues. We can become more resilient and better prepared to deal with future threats, while at the same time tackling the issues we currently face.