Becoming Resilient, Episode 1: Resiliency?
About This Episode
Resiliency specialists Jonathan Guy, P.E., PTOE, AICP, Kate Widness, CNU-A, and Uday Khambhammettu, P.E., CFM join host Derek Roessler to kick-off the inaugural episode of the Becoming Resilient podcast series, which explores Kimley-Horn’s new venture approach to the trending topic of community readiness and resiliency. In this episode, Jonathan, Kate, and Uday introduce the topic of resiliency, why it’s important, and what it means to them and their practice.
Read the Transcript
Derek Roessler: Hello, and welcome to episode one of our Becoming Resilient podcast, where we talk about Kimley-Horn’s new venture approach to the trending topic of community readiness and resiliency. I’m your host, Derek, and today I’m joined by three Kimley-Horn specialists with a passion for resiliency. First up is Jonathan, a transportation specialist in our Charleston office who has more than 20 years of experience in the development of sustainable transportation solutions.
Jonathan Guy: Hey Derek, happy to be here today and talk with you.
Derek: Thanks, Jonathan. Next, from our Tallahassee office, we have Kate, who has been in the transportation planning field for eight years.
Kate Widness: Hey Derek, excited to talk about resilience today and teach people a little bit more about it.
Derek: Excellent. And rounding out our group is Uday, a water resources engineer and a climate change preparedness specialist with more than 16 years of industry experience from our Virginia Beach office.
Uday Khambammettu: Hi Derek, very glad to be here and excited to be joining my partners, so thank you.
Derek: Well, thank you all for joining me here today. So let’s dive right in. How do you define resilience? Jonathan, we’ll start with you.
Jonathan: That’s a great question, Derek. Thanks for asking. It means many things to many different people, depending on your perspective. I guess the definition would be the ability of a system, community, or even a society that’s been exposed to stresses or shocks to resist, absorb, palmitate, and even to recover from those effects in a timely and efficient manner. It’s typically what we see. In our industry, we have decided to use this word resilience as this umbrella term for planning and design strategies needed to help our communities develop the necessary capacity to meet the challenges of the future. But I think if you think about resiliency, it really is summed up in one word. And to me, that one word is adaptability.
Derek: Interesting. Kate, how do you define resilience?
Kate: I couldn’t agree with Jonathan more. And one thing I like to ask myself when defining resiliency is what can we do today to better prepare for an uncertain tomorrow? I view resilience as taking actionable steps as soon as possible for your community or organization or business, or even now, if you’re fortunate enough to take immediate action or even just having a plan in place to eventually implement those actions that will strengthen your community or organization. And these actions can encompass a variety of topics, ranging from public engagement to code revision, to hardening infrastructure, to reactionary measures after an event has occurred. So it’s all the things that Kimley-Horn is already helping our clients with. And the implementer of these actions can range from individuals and neighborhood associations, to state and federal governments, to private sector businesses. Everyone can become more resilient.
Derek: Uday, last but not least, we’d love to hear how you define resilience.
Uday: Thank you, Derek. So I agree with both Jonathan and Kate, and then I see resilience in a different perspective. I think the way I would define it is resilience is the persistence to bounce back from a crisis. So that’s the way I think there are multiple facets to resilience, right? There is financial, there is a stock market, there is an infrastructure resilience, and then there is also an individual resilience. In fact, I also teach resilience to individuals as a certified breath work and meditation instructor through Art of Living Foundation. And what is very important is in understanding your resilient system is that when a crisis happens, it damage would occur and then a functionality decrease would happen. And then it is that adaptability that Jonathan was talking about or the persistence of that system, how quickly would it bounce back to that functional state, to which it was originally designed for, right?
Any of these systems. And then I would say is like a resilience typically has four different facets. It’s actually called the R Four model. And any resilient system or plan would have a robustness, redundancy, resourcefulness, and rapidity to it. And then these are some things that we are helping out our clients on a day to day basis. Whenever we’re working on any infrastructure project on engineering projects, we are trying to hit on these four competences. So that it’s like the plan that we are coming up with is really solid. And then we are actually creating a very resilient system to our clients.
Derek: It sounds like there are certainly a lot of different facets to resilience and resiliency. Kate, I’d love to go to you from a planning perspective to understand why is resiliency or resilient approach important.
Kate: So as a planner, I often look at situations from 5,000 feet above. I kind of like to say I fly above a situation and I really try to view every part of a community and how they work well or don’t work well together. By adding a resilience lens into that equation, we can look for things like dual benefits of solutions, which is something I love to do for my clients, but also start to prioritize solutions that not only benefit our communities, but more importantly, the people who live within those communities. So I’ll just give a quick example: a road floods. It’s not great for our transportation assets. Well, that road connects to several businesses and now those businesses have to close down because people can’t safely access their stores. That’s not great for our economy. But let’s think about some of the employees of those businesses. Some of them may be hourly. So when those businesses close or can’t operate our normal business days, those employees, unfortunately, don’t get paid. That’s not great for the people of our community. So a resilient approach allows us to take a deeper dive into these situations and better manage how we prevent that snowball effect. And in this case, applying engineering solutions to stop that road from flooding would prevent a lot of the other negative impacts.
Jonathan: Kate, you bring up flooding of roads and here in Charleston, it’s something we live with on a daily basis. Last year alone, we had over 90 closures of roads due to what we call sunny day flooding. And so as we look at coming out of the threats and vulnerability study that we just completed for the city of Charleston, one of the things that we’ve been looking at is how do we prioritize projects and get, as you said, dual benefit out of those? And that’s led to some roadway projects. It’s leading to the possibility of putting in an adaptive signal system that’s responsive to flooding and building off the existing infrastructure. A lot of times we find we’re doing resilient approaches already, but it’s how we tie those together with the studies, the plans, and connecting those two so that the outcome provides greater benefit long term. We make smart investments into our infrastructure system today, as we move forward to the future.
Derek: Uday, as an engineer, why is resiliency important to you?
Uday: That’s a great question, Derek. Thanks for asking. So I just wanted to bring the attention to all of our listeners, that American society of civil engineer, solar engineers, the association has ranked our infrastructure a D+, right? Our infrastructure is aging, and then it’s crumbling. While that is a very sobering fact, I just wanted to bring the positivity towards it because this gives us a great opportunity to rebuild, right? And then as we are rebuilding our infrastructure to bring into that A game while we are competing with the rest of the world and then being one of the world leaders in infrastructure, because the rest of the world looks at us, this is our chance. This is our chance to incorporate resilience.
And then as Kate and Jonathan have indicated earlier, while planning at that 5,000 foot level, we can incorporate looking at the bigger picture. And as Jonathan said, it’s like prioritizing the projects. And the other thing that we could add while we are at it is adding adaptive design and then also risk tolerance. And by adaptive design, what I mean is you do not have to spend all of your capital improvement dollars all at once based upon your risk tolerance. And then say for example, I take the example of that street flooding, right? So the deeper dive when it comes to an engineering perspective is when is that road flooding, right? Is it a two year storm event, 10-year, 100-year, 500-year? Where is that actually happening? So that’s one of the things that we look at. And then that’s where I’m talking about the risk tolerance.
So, if the road is flooding at a two year, which obviously has a higher frequency, you obviously need to prioritize that project much higher than when a road is flooding in a 50-year or a 100-year event. But then at the same time, what is the damage that is going to happen? As Kate alluded to it’s like there are so many other snowball effects, right? If the street is flooding, there are several businesses will close and that is economic impacts. So that’s where the adaptive design comes into play depending upon… So you may have your plans for the hundred year storm event, but then you slowly build that up as your climate change, or your weather related events, those models become more clearer and you build upon the previous solution so that it’s not financially a burden. And then it is a solid plan for you because it’s like if that event that the models have predicted would never come, you have not wasted money investing in some infrastructure that’s not very useful. So that is the way how engineering would gel with the planning aspect of things.
Derek: That’s really good to learn all the different ways you can approach resiliency from either from our side or from a client’s perspective, but I’m sure there are plenty of misconceptions about what resiliency is even with what you’ve already laid out. So Kate, I know you shared some stuff with us before we started recording here. We’d like to hear from you about a common misconception about resiliency.
Kate: So a common misconception is that resiliency only applies to weather related events. And oftentimes people think those weather related events only have to do with water and only impact our coastal communities. But I’m here to tell you that it could not be further from the truth. The water and our coastal communities are impacted by weather and climate related events and need to be resilient. But a resilience approach can be applied to all types of weather or climate related events, extreme heat, extreme cold, wildfires, mudslides, earthquakes, you name it.
But more importantly, resiliency can be applied to other types of events, including economic downturns, civil unrest, food insecurity, or the situation we’re all currently in, a public health pandemic. Another misconception that’s a little bit more sensitive is we often hear that resilience is the same thing as climate change. And when a lot of people hear the words climate change, they think of a politically charged term. As I just explained, resilience is more than just addressing our weather or climate related events. And the term should not be politicized. We should be taking strategic resilience approaches in all that we do to better protect our populations, our natural resources, our built environment, and our economy. It’s a smarter way to approach how we move into the future.
Derek: That sounds good. Uday, did you have anything you wanted to share with that or did Kate already knock it all out?
Uday: Well, I could not agree more with what Kate said. And then I would just give one example. I just want to go back to the definition what I said, the way I think the resiliency is. It is the persistence to bounce back from a crisis, right? And then the crisis is, as Kate rightly said, it’s not just weather related. Say for example, from an engineering perspective, and then being a water engineer. In a wastewater treatment plant or a water treatment plant, crisis can always happen depending upon a system failure, right? So if we are designing a sedimentation tanks or we are designing the flocculation tanks, if we do not have equalization wherein you are unable to direct flows and then what are we going to do when there is additional flow that comes into the system and then treatment plant has already reached its capacity?
In order to make it resilient, what we would need to have is to bypass those flows and then be able to store it elsewhere. So that is resilience right there. And then it has, yes, it’s like sometimes it is weather related and then it could be some other issues. So that is one way it’s like where we could add resilience in our treatment plans. And similarly on transportation side, it’s like we could actually have a traffic event related issue where then it’s like there is a huge traffic, or there is an accident that happens. If we do not have a backup route, and then there is no resilient plan in there, then we would be having gridlocks. So I think it’s a misconception that resilience is only related to climate change and then it is only weather related and somehow it is tied only to the coastal areas. And then one quick other example that I could give here is the dam failures that have happened recently in Michigan. Though they are weather related, there wasn’t much of a resilience, or there wasn’t much of a freeboard that was there for those engineering designs, which kind of caused it to fail.
Derek: Now, I noticed in both of your answers, you talked a lot about events and crises that happen that affect resiliency. But I would imagine that resiliency goes beyond that and impacts our daily lives. Jonathan, I’d like to get your perspective on how resiliency impacts our daily lives and how does that affect our practices here at Kimley-Horn?
Jonathan: Derek, that’s a great question. And I think we all are kind of understanding what it means to be resilient here, most recently with all of us being affected by COVID-19 and at the sudden shock, if you will, of working in an office and then suddenly finding yourself working in your bedroom or your garage, like I am, or wherever it might be. It was a quick shift from what we were comfortable with. And so our comfort level, if you will, was interrupted and we were all sort of scrambling, how am I going to be able to do my job daily? And so we had to change our approach to how we dealt with work. And so it was an interesting perspective when you look at that, and it impacted us in a variety of different ways. And honestly, had we not prepared for this, it could have become a long-term stress, not just an impact as a shock, but a long-term stress on our system.
Fortunately, we were prepared for something like this. And so we’ve been able to adapt and recover in a very short amount of time. But had we not had that preparedness, I fear what might have been in the mindset of us here at Kimley-Horn. And so that’s just one way it’s impacted us here locally, but I want to pick up again on that misconception, because I think that is something that plagues us, not only here within the industry, but also here at Kimley-Horn of what is resiliency and, “I don’t live at the coast. I’m not dealing with resiliency and I don’t really need to be aware of that.” And that couldn’t be further from the truth and Kate and Uday both talked about what that means and how we should be adapting to what’s happening.
I keep coming back again to that word, adaptability. And I think about the practice builders and I think about every individual that’s here at Kimley-Horn and that’s what we have in our DNA here. We see opportunities and we adapt. We adapt to the changing markets, disciplines, and even geography as we grow. And it’s that resilience perception and being able to look at it through that lens that’s so very important. And so, one of the things I think we need to be looking at here at Kimley-Horn is not looking at it as a standalone practice, this resiliency practice, rather that is inclusive of everything that we’re already doing here in many of the major service groups that we provide. And I’ll explain a little bit about that. As we look at surface waters, we look at transportation, even development services, we’re seeing changes today and in the future to how we deliver to those services.
Many of the communities that we serve are grappling with changing protocols for basic common services. How’s schools going to work? What about public meetings? How do we pass ordinances and development in a virtual environment? What about medical services? Even the placement of buildings, looking at codes and looking at zoning ordinances, how that all relates to development, which is a common practice in development services of understanding that for our clients and positioning them so that they have the best outcome. And of course, sporting events, our favorite pastime here, each of these represents an opportunity to serve a client as they are adapting and changing in a current market.
But it’s not just about the private sector. It’s also about the public sector, as well. Our private clients are looking at ways to be more resilient, how to construct more efficient buildings, maintain supply chains and how to navigate a new changing economy. So as we move forward, a resilient mindset and understanding that resiliency is already built into the practices that we already have here is going to be ever more present in our daily lives, especially after what we’ve just gone through.
Derek: I like that you brought up clients and I don’t know if you’re reading my mind here, but I wanted to wrap things up here. And this has been a great discussion. Thank you all so much, but I’d like to hear from each of you and Uday, I’ll start with you of what advice could you give your clients who are starting to integrate resilience into their work and how can Kimley-Horn help them?
Uday: Thanks, Derek. Thanks for that question. I think my advice to our clients, and I’ll give you in a short while and example, it starts small. Look in your current capital improvements programs, and then there may be an opportunity to incorporate resilience. And so recently, what had happened was we were working with city of Norfolk and then they reached out to us to look at a spillway that’s failing. And they wanted to see if there is a way to incorporate resilience into that project. And it was a very simple look at the spillway and then create a new spillway.
But what we realized as we started looking at it, at the project, it was not as black and white as we had originally thought. The spillway was at the end of a lake, and when this lake was not functioning properly, the spillover was not functioning, the water would raise up in the lake. And then there is a street that passes over a bridge on this lake. And that is one of the only accesses to the emergency shelter that the city has. And then that was pretty an amazing discovery that we found out that if we fix the spillway with a gate, a flood gate, and if we were able to empty out the lake pre-storm, we would be able to create a storage and then store all the water and then making this bridge or the road passable and opening up the emergency shelter on both sides.
And now people can access this. And then when we approached the city, the city was really excited and then they liked the idea. And then going back to my adaptive design, they just didn’t have the dollars because originally they were just thinking it was fixing it, just a simple spillway, but then now it has become a floodgate project. So we made our design adaptive. So currently it’s going to be designed, we are in the process of the design, it’s being designed for a manual operation, but then all the pertinences are in there in place. So in future that could be made completely remote operational, and then we could have a Cloud based operation to that model. So look at opportunities. We are doing a similar thing for city of Hampton in your current CIPs. Many a times it’s like such projects could be found in your operational projects, right? Things are failing, if something is failing and then you are about to replace it anyways, you might as well add resilience to it, like the city of Norfolk and city of Hampton are doing.
Derek: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Kate, we’d like to hear from you the same question.
Kate: Yeah. So my advice would be to take a holistic approach and get an appropriate plan in place for becoming more resilient. Figure out how to dedicate funds for that plan or apply for different grants that might be able to support that effort. But it’s important that you figure out what your assets are. What do you care about? And how those assets are vulnerable or at risk to different threats. And then what are the direct and indirect impacts? This allows you to better allocate your resource and really strengthen your community or business in the face of uncertainty. So that’s really the advice I would have, and fortunately Kimley-Horn does all of that.
Derek: That’s great advice. Jonathan, how about you?
Jonathan: Absolutely. The advice I would give to clients is that don’t be afraid of resiliency. You hear this buzzword, you’re afraid of it. You’re not doing anything different. It’s looking at it through a different lens. You’re going to deliver the projects the same way. The back end is where you’re going to get the return because your products are going to be better. They’re going to live longer, they’re going to be more viable and they’re going to be more adaptable to the changing economy that’s ahead of you. It’s that resilient perspective to know that change is constant. Regardless of what we try to do to stop the eroding shoreline that continues down here in Charleston. And predicting the future is difficult. We’re dealing with that here at Charleston. How do we protect the peninsula? Are we going to spend a billion dollars for a seawall out there? And it’s complex and it’s always changing.
Jonathan: And so it’s important for us to be adaptable to those, to the economies, the events, and the opportunities that are out there and make the most of what we have. It’s a very conservative approach. It’s doing more with what you’ve got and looking at things in a different lens.
Derek: And that is all certainly great advice. I want to thank you all again for sharing your time and your expertise and for everybody listening. Thank you for joining us for episode one of our Becoming Resilient podcast. I’d encourage you to tune in next time when we discussed the topic of resiliency and how you can approach it from a planning perspective.
About the Speakers