Originally Published on the Tallahassee Democrat
It should come as no surprise that Florida is the No. 1 state in the country for hurricanes. South Florida has taken the brunt of the hits and now, after Hurricane Michael, the Panhandle has also, unfortunately, experienced that level of devastation.
The next decades may very well entail even more severe storms and climate extremes. Unsustainable industrial and environmental practices contributing to man-made climate change are making the situation even more severe.
Our communities, therefore, have no choice but to become more resilient and more sustainable. Recognizing this need, researchers at FAMU and FSU are acting together to make that happen.
The jointly operated FAMU-FSU College of Engineering is home to the Center for Resilient Infrastructure and Disaster Response (RIDER), a research center focused on helping vulnerable people withstand and recover from increasingly extreme natural and manmade threats.
RIDER’s graduate students and faculty pursue this mission by exploring multidisciplinary research that aims to improve the key infrastructure and systems we need most during a disaster. Roadways, power grids, and telecommunication systems are the lifelines that get us through disasters; something many of us experienced first-hand during Hurricane Michael.
Bridging the 'resilience divide'
The RIDER Center was founded in response to the devastation witnessed shortly after Hurricane Michael made landfall in the Florida Panhandle and those lifelines failed. In the wake of that destruction, several of our civil and environmental engineering faculty noticed that while some people recovered quickly, others did not.
Rural communities struggled to rebuild, those with limited resources slowly moved on, and some people are still in recovery mode.
This divide in readiness and ability to bounce back, sometimes called the “resilience divide,” motivated our team to establish the RIDER Center in 2019. We now operate four labs in areas of water sustainability and coastal hazards, transportation logistics and decision support, resilient materials and structures, and sustainable infrastructure management.
RIDER also recently launched the Methane Emissions Reduction Initiative (MERI). Cutting methane emissions is our fastest opportunity to immediately slow the rate of global warming. With our labs, faculty, students, and partnerships we are working on solutions that offer resilience for all people.
Mix of multiple threats
RIDER has quickly grown beyond our initial concept; we know that the resilience problem is one with deep roots, and not just caused by hurricanes. The problem is caused by a complex mix of social, economic, and environmental influences, and the complications don’t end there.
As we’ve seen in recent years, hurricanes, earthquakes, wildfires, and floods don’t stop for pandemics. These threats can occur at the same time and impact multiple systems in our towns and cities. Imagine a pandemic during a hurricane which has knocked down powerlines blocking important escape routes and access to needed health care, with no internet or phone service.
We call that a multi-system (e.g., the power grid, communications system, and roadways), multi-hazard (e.g., pandemic and hurricane) problem. We also know that disasters don’t always occur on timescales we immediately notice. Rising seas push at our coastal communities and erode our beaches while inland regions can face persistent and worsening drought. Communities can experience both acute and chronic disaster.
Taking holistic approach
RIDER researchers are advocating for a holistic approach to resilience and disaster response in our cities and towns to tackle those multi-system, multi-hazard problems. We address multiple hazards impacting multiple systems, in both short and long timeframes, while keeping community in the spotlight. This big picture view of the problem creates a big picture view of available solutions.
Infrastructure resilience and response to disaster is a question of sustainability and conservation. How do we preserve the good things we have and manage them in the right way so that they last over time? How do we harmonize social, environmental, and economic influences across many systems in the short term and long term?
The answer to these questions is the path to resilient communities. We build climate resilience through sustainability, conservation, and deep partnerships between communities and the academic research efforts built to sustain them.
To learn more about the Rider Center, our events, impact, and initiatives, please visit us on the web at rider.eng.famu.fsu.edu/, or in person at 2035 E. Paul Dirac Drive in Innovation Park (across from the Mag Lab). We are looking forward to introducing you to research initiatives aimed at our mission.
Will Hill is the Strategic Initiatives Manager at FAMU-FSU College of Engineering’s RIDER CENTER. HE can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This is a “Greening Our Community” article, an initiative of Sustainable Tallahassee. Learn more at www.SustainableTallahassee.org.