Building Resilient Communities
Interview with Angela Schedel, Ph.d., P.e.
Director Of Community Resiliency
What led to your interest in climate resilience? I was born and raised in Florida, and grew up in an area where hurricanes regularly occur. As a child, we evacuated for a hurricane, and we also stayed through hurricanes. I went to the Naval Academy for college, and I was a helicopter pilot for 10 years doing search and rescue. I then became a professor at the Naval Academy in uniform, and I served 25 years total in the Navy. Nothing makes you more resilient than surviving as a student at the Naval Academy for 4 years. I'm a resilient individual because of my background, so I have a completely different perspective or risk calculus as an engineer, which allows me to succeed in resilience planning. I moved to Annapolis, where I met Lisa Craig, right after Tropical Storm Isabel in 2003. Seeing the aftermath and having grown up in Florida, I realized that so many communities don't know how to prepare for disasters, evacuate or appropriately build infrastructure. That inspired me to get a PhD in civil engineering, and do my dissertation on sea level rise and how we can better prepare for it. What role do you and Taylor Engineering play in climate adaptation? I have a professional engineers license and a PhD in engineering. And I'm just very unique in that respect as an adaptation planner. Our mission at Taylor Engineering is to develop leading edge solutions in the water environment. We have a coastal engineering practice where we do storm surge modeling for FEMA flood insurance rate maps. The Jacksonville Port Authority uses us to do designs of breakwaters and sea walls, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has us doing some work on protecting nuclear power plants. I get to work with everyone in our company and help all of our projects be more resilient. It’s a really cool place to work because of its reputation working on coastal engineering, and I've been able to introduce resilience into that. We just finished a project for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers where we looked at how to reuse the sand that comes out of coastal inlets. For example, if it's good enough quality, we can put it on the beaches. It's a sustainable solution because we would be taking sand from an inlet and putting on a beach where it would have been had the inlet not been there. We looked at every single beach that has ever been included in a beach nourishment project, which is a natural/nature-based solution to shoreline erosion. The outcome of this project is going to be shared on a publicly available website. We had 350 stakeholders provide us with information, including people from local municipalities and nature reserves, and we spoke with geologists, engineers, mayors, and citizens about their priorities. This was a coastal resilience project that was funded by Congress. I'm proud of that work, and I'm glad that the federal government is actually talking about resilience and doing something about it. My work at Taylor Engineering is really unique because it touches every single one of our groups and projects. I can see all the different moving parts, and by bringing everyone together, we’re able to look holistically at a system and find a cohesive solution. We specifically try to build relationships not only with current elected officials, but also with the members of the government staff who will be there after an election. I act as a conduit, plugging everybody together and causing collaboration to happen, just like Lisa Craig does. She's really good at it, and I've learned a lot from her. How do you develop trust with a community? Are people open to resilience planning? It's very individual on how people feel about resilience. The way you develop trust is by having respect for everyone's opinions and coming at resilience from a data-based or a science-based perspective. I love being able to explain the numbers and trends to a city council, or a special committee of a municipality. I share raw numbers, my analysis of the data, my opinion of how I've analyzed it, and how else it could be analyzed. With sea level rise trends, I don't want to argue about what's causing it. I just want to show you the data. After showing the trends, we get people talking about what they’ve experienced. Everybody has a story, especially in Florida, about a flood event, or a time they had to evacuate. If you can keep that at the forefront of their mind, they are motivated to action. But if they forget about it, and it's been 10 years since the last storm, and they're not motivated to action, and then they let their flood insurance coverage lapse. I'm such a proponent of flood insurance, National Flood Insurance Program. If you're in an X-zone, you should definitely get it. One of Lisa's quotes is, “if you live where it rains, then you need flood insurance.” Any community that has either a river or a coast or receives a lot of rain is going to have a flood at some point or another. We can't completely prepare and protect everything all the time. The key with resilience planning is to ask a community what is most important to them, what do they prioritize. We have to explain that we can build a resilience plan, but not everything all the time can be 100% protected. It's really important to get people to reflect on their own lives. It's just our human nature if you can get people to talk about themselves, but then tie it back to the concept you're trying to get them to understand, it just makes it more real. I find that telling stories is infinitely better than all the data I can show. So when you're doing community outreach, what does that look like? Resilience is very much tailored towards the community. The most important step is getting public buy in and generating awareness. We typically start with a survey, which can be an online platform, where we ask questions about what a community is doing about sea level rise, and if people are concerned about it. Oftentimes, we will also print out the survey and have it available at a library or a public venue to ensure participation by those who are less tech savvy. It's important to get a feel for what the public is concerned about before we go in to talk with them. Once we've done the survey, we gather people and present them with the data we have on sea level rise in their county. We have people tell their stories about dealing with flood events or hurricanes. We have them mark on map areas they’ve seen flooded and write down their priorities.
I love partnering with Lisa Craig because she’s great at public outreach. She learned so much with the city of Annapolis and Tropical Storm Isabel about getting the voice of the public into any type of resilience project that we do, and especially with historic preservation projects. Sometimes we, as engineers, or scientists, or planners may not have the same perspective, or emotions about a historic property as the public does. So it's really key to understand what a community wants to protect and how they want to protect it. In some cases, we can't protect everything. I've heard Lisa say, “we might lose this, we might have to let it go, and we might have to let it flood.” Those are really hard decisions to make, and no one ever wants to hear that. What if this is damaged irreparably, especially when it comes to history? Lisa really helps clients prioritize how you protect things and mitigate for future floods. How do you define success of the projects that you work on? I define success by a community that builds momentum with our resilience plan, and then takes action. The key to resilience planning is first to do science-based data-based research on that specific area, then add community input, and then ask planning, zoning, engineers, storm water engineers, the City Council, the mayor, and others to weigh in. And then you come up with a good solution for that community – some near term, midterm and long-term adaptation ideas within the plan. You have to be able to adapt, knowing that you might have a nor'easter like we recently had in St. Augustine, where all of our streets flooded. We think ostriches bury their head in the sand, but they don’t. They're really good runners, and so they run away as their defensive action. Similarly, people often put their head in the sand and ignore what has happened. Why is it that we can think about a flood today, but not tomorrow? A good example is Tropical Storm Isabel in 2003 in Annapolis, it was at the forefront of people’s minds when I moved there. The next year, all people talked about was the damage and the flooding. But now it's 2020, and it's been 17 years. I think people have forgotten those lessons they learned. So if a community is making a plan and taking action, that’s success to me. We should take defensive actions like the ostrich does. For more information on historic preservation and climate resilience, check out these resources. The Ostrich Paradox: Why We Underprepare for Disasters by Robert Meyer and Howard Kunreuther NOAA Sea Level Rise Viewer Resilient Heritage in the Nation’s Oldest City (St. Augustine 2020) SAND Coastal Resilience project (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)
Angela Schedel is the Director of Community Resilience at Taylor Engineering. She is a recently retired Naval Officer, having served 25 years as a helicopter pilot and an engineering professor. She grew up in Tampa and has a Bachelors degree in Ocean Engineering from the U.S. Naval Academy and a PhD in Civil Engineering from the University of Maryland. Her research, including her dissertation entitled “Sea-Level Rise and its Economic Effects on Naval Installations,” has earned her recognition as a subject matter leader in sea level rise and adaptation solutions. She is passionate about sea level rise and wants to help people think proactively about it, not just react after flood events. When not in the office, she enjoys spending time in, under and on the water. Connect with Angela and read more about her work at https://www.taylorengineering.com/, or on LinkedIn