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Neighborhood Climate Resilience, Part 2: “To Endure And Survive” Transcript

Cameron Peters: What does community resilience mean to you?       
Leslie Kevles: The ability for a neighborhood to endure and survive. And we like to think we do it together. I think that there's too many individuals, but I know from my street alone, I can only talk about my street, alright? That everybody knows each other and we're constantly looking out for each other, and I think that's where the resiliency comes in. I ask, "What are you doing? What are you planning? What are you getting ready to do right now?" And so, in that aspect, I think resiliency might be on the street by street basis, not so much in the entire community, maybe in total, it is. I don't know for sure.                           

Cameron Peters: Welcome to Home and High Water, a podcast by the Center for Environmental Studies at Florida Atlantic University about research that uncovers how we live, adapt, and thrive in a changing climate. I’m your host, Cameron Peters.

In our last episode, we dove into part-1 of a 2-part series exploring the assessment that enables us to map and categorize a community’s capacity to respond to natural hazards in one South Florida neighborhood. Today, we will focus on what our research team discovered about the local landscape when they began to collect information about community resilience at the neighborhood scale.                                                  
Leslie Kevles: My name is Leslie Kevles, and I live here in the Estates of Fort Lauderdale since 2014 when I move up from Key Largo.                          
Cameron Peters: The Estates of Fort Lauderdale is located in the City of Dania Beach, South West of the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International airport. It’s a small mobile home community of 782 homes, about 5.5 miles from the beaches and ocean.   
Before meeting with the community, FAU’s Center for Environmental Studies, also known as CES, assessed the Estates of Fort Lauderdale’s vulnerability based on the widely accepted vulnerability indicators of age, income, education, and presence of mobile homes. Once completed, this assessment characterized the community within the moderate to high vulnerability category. Yet the CES team’s hunch was that this characterization was just the tip of the iceberg.         
Leslie Kevles: The Estates of Fort Lauderdale is a very interesting place. It has just about everything you could possibly want if you're a retiree. We have a pool that's larger than an Olympic-sized pool; we have a hot tub jacuzzi, which is the largest one in Florida, it's 30-some odd feet across with about 18 jets in it. We have a unisex gym, we have separate saunas for men and women, we have a bowling alley, a card room, a golf course, petanque, pickleball, tennis court...Did I mention golf course? If I didn't, we have that. Of course, it's 100% underwater right now.                    
Cameron Peters: The golf course is underwater because when I interviewed Leslie on November 10th, 2020, Hurricane Eta had just rolled through, causing flooded streets and yards.    

Leslie Kevles: There are certain sections of our community here in the Estates that I have noticed in the past two days that are completely flooded. They have water right up to their doors, I don't know what they're doing about it, I don't see any sand bags, of course, the water is now starting to recede a little bit. These are people right next to the lake, where the water has just come over the side.  

Cameron Peters: In recent years, Leslie has witnessed the flooding getting worse.

Leslie Kevles: Generally, I would say from May through September and parts of October is our rainy season. This year, it started earlier and it's still ongoing. I mean, we got a little rain this morning and we're gonna get more all week. Now we should be starting our dry season but it's not. I used to never complain about the rain and I used to actually like walking in it. It never bothered me, especially when it's not cold, but it got to me now, I had enough.
Cameron Peters: Over the last six years, Leslie has become an integral part of the community, serving as President of the Community Club. He was also one of the first community members to meet the CES research team and served as a Team Lead throughout the study, helping to organize and mobilize fellow neighbors during the data collection process. CES Graduate Research Assistant Bridget Huston first met Leslie and other key leaders during the outreach process.     
Bridget Huston: So when we first met with the community, it was just with a couple of the key personnel - it was me, Dr. Polsky and Jan Booher, and then a couple of the initial gatekeepers and it strangely felt so comfortable. This was like one of my first major meetings with community members and kind of starting that outreach process. So, I was a bit nervous and they made us feel so like at home, they offered us coffee. The conversation was just so organic and natural and comfortable...And I feel like they were super receptive from day one and I just felt kind of bonded with them. Like I wanted to help them, and they wanted to help us. So after that first initial meeting it kind of just ran from there. They expressed a lot of interest in the project and being involved in kind of the key motivators for why we were doing this study. You know, they felt resonated with them a lot.     
Cameron Peters: In June 2019, after this initial meeting with the community leaders, Bridget held a Listening Session where the whole community was invited to learn more about the research project and how they could get involved in the study.                              
Bridget Huston: So, from there we planned a community listening session, which basically was…a set time where we helped to convey our message and our project motivation to a bigger portion of the community. So, it was open to whoever was interested. We kind of just explain the research side of it, the environmental side, why this is important for them, what we want to get out of this project for them. And then it was also a time for them to tell us what's important to them and what they want to get out of the project and kind of just their way of life and their daily experiences. So I think the listening session was a big pivotal moment in kind of our engagement and partnership.   
Cameron Peters: At the core of this research project was collaboration to learn about and enhance a South Florida community’s resilience. By creating space for both an overview of the study and community member voices and stories, the Listening Session became the foundation for the workshop and the work of relationship building between the community and researchers. From here, the study took off.        
By September 2019, twenty community members were divided into two Outreach Teams, each with a Team Lead. Bridget trained each group on how to administer surveys to fellow community members.

Throughout October, team members were responsible for recruiting voluntary community survey takers at community meetings and events. Participants were asked to fill out a customized resilience survey with questions like, “How would you rate your level of attachment to the Estates of Fort Lauderdale.”

Each question could be directly related to varying dimensions of resilience such as a person’s preparedness and response actions to hazards as well as community accessibility, mobility, social capital, and communication.   

From the beginning, this on-the-ground research collection offered a unique perspective.               

Bridget Huston: From day one, I think the connectedness of the community and kind of the love for the community was super contagious. I just think that, you know, I felt their love. I felt their, you know, desire to protect their community and their neighbors. And that was just a really nice kind of essence to have for this project. It kind of leaked through a lot of different avenues of the project, even when maybe we weren't focusing on social capital or, you know, community connectedness or communication, like even things like mobility and infrastructure kind of, you know, circled back to this sense of, you know, community and social capital and all of those things.         

Cameron Peters: For Leslie, this connection and care for neighbors, and their ability to help each other in a wide variety of situations, is what he considers the community's biggest strength.              
Leslie Kevles: The fact that there are so many people here that you can talk to the right person if there's an issue. I know a couple of air conditioning people in here. If I had a question, I could ask them. We're not friends, but I can ask them. I have a guy a couple of doors away who's a retired electrician, and he has helped me on occasion when I needed help with something like that. Normally I'm the guy who does the fixing. When people's washers or dryers break, I'll go over there. I don't charge them to fix anything. I can usually fix it without parts, and if it needs parts, then they pay for the parts. I don't charge them labor or anything like that. I mean, I don't think that's what neighbors do. I wanna be able to ask them for a favor without worrying about would they help me because I charged them for something. I wouldn't do that. But there's always somebody to talk to, to ask a question whether it's political, health-wise.  
Cameron Peters: These are critical relationships, ones that are made visible when documented in a neighborhood-level assessment. Through this additional layer of information, Bridget was able to collect community-level attributes and processes of resilience, allowing her to produce a dynamic understanding of the Estates of Fort Lauderale’s resilience story.        

A key aspect of the study that enabled this to happen was having community research teams lead the data collection process. This was a dramatic shift in typical research design, encouraging greater buy-in from the entire community and also leading to community capacity building.

As data was collected by the community research teams, Bridget found herself observing the Estates of Fort Lauderdale’s strong sense of connection and communication in the structures, networks, and everyday interactions occurring in front of her. Factors that enhance resilience.            
Bridget Huston: The community itself has a monthly community newsletter. We got to see an example of the newsletter the first day that we went there. That's something they're super proud of and actually flipping through it, it was really awesome. You know, it detailed the major events happening, not only in their community, but the city, you know, special events, different governmental events, kind of just keeping people in the know. It shared resources and contacts.
I mean, it was hard to get them to, you know, focus when we were in session, just because they all just love talking to each other and sharing stories and talking about what they did yesterday, or, you know, just like normal friendship banter. And it was really fun to see because although most of the community is kind of on the older side, there is some variation in age and that kind of just went out the window when we were at these sessions. Everyone was talking to everyone and it, you know, they seemed very familiar with each other. It wasn't like they only see each other once a month and they're catching up. It's like they walk to the meeting together and, you know, that was really cool and special to see.
Cameron Peters: These are important elements of community resilience exemplified in everyday routines and relationships, one’s that can be especially vital in moments of change or hardship.         
Bridget Huston: So, you know, you could just tell that they were there to not only protect their homes and, you know, the community centers and other different areas in the community, but to protect their neighbors and their friends, and just, you know, work as a team. And that was evident from day one. And I think that was super pivotal and essential in their resilience story throughout, you know, all of the different elements and threads of their story.   
Cameron Peters: What Bridget was witnessing in the community listening sessions, training sessions, in the newsletter, and mailroom were networks of resilience not directly described by the census data driven vulnerability indices initially calculated. While the initial Census-driven vulnerability score was classified as ‘high’, this categorization didn’t seem to be revealing the full texture of the Estates of Fort Lauderdale's resilience story, specifically the lived experiences of community members on the ground.         
After community members collected surveys from 100 households under the direction of Bridget, Jan, and Dr. Polsky, Bridget began to analyze the information. She started by building a composite resilience score, an average of all the household surveys. Then, she began examining the relationship between different dimensions of resilience. For example, in general, greater social capital was associated with higher communication within the community. This was expected based on their interactions with the community. More surprisingly, greater infrastructure, such as community installation of hurricane shutters, led to greater weather related knowledge.   
Bridget Huston: And so I think that that really brought a different perspective and a different value to this project that could be provided by those kind of more broad community assessments. So like BRIC and SOVI, you don't really get that, you know, view or that lens into a community. And what's at the heart of the community and the people and their networks. And I think that was such a foundation to this project.  

Cameron Peters: The analysis of survey responses provided insight into community strengths and existing forms of resilience, revealing that the Estates Community is less vulnerable than the Census data-driven approach might suggest.   

In addition, by studying how different dimensions and factors of resilience interact, Bridget was able to identify areas where the Estates of Fort Lauderdale can increase resilience. Again, the seven major resilience dimensions highlighted within this study, include communication, knowledge, social capital, mobility, infrastructure, institutional efforts and financial independence. These dimensions reveal complex storylines that exist within the community. This shows how the processes of resilience go beyond what census data can provide.  

In both the typical Census-driven assessments and the CES study, 'social capital' (referred to as ‘community” capital via BRIC) is assumed to be an important resilience dimension. But the CES study presents a refined and tailored measure of 'social capital,' and incorporates richer measurements such as the frequency of involvement in community events, types of social activities and in person interactions and lengths of residency. By contrast, the Census-driven assessments operationalize ‘community capital’ simply as 'place attachment” and “involvement in civic, religious and disaster organizations”.
This information is important because it guides the necessary support from government and other stakeholders. When these Census based tools were used to map the vulnerability of Broward County, the Estates of Fort Lauderdale was depicted between moderate and high vulnerability.     

Bridget Huston: When we're bringing it back to the community we were able to really identify areas of strength within the community and then areas that potentially could use improvement. So things like making sure everyone's evacuating correctly and efficiently and making kind of a network of the resources available within the community. So, you know, not a lot of community members are using backup energy modes or safeguards for their home. Some of them don't really know a lot about flooding and have the knowledge of that and how that will impact them. So, you know, those were kind of areas that we could see them trying to improve on. Overall they did rank a 0.6 on a scale of zero to one for resilience, one being the most resilience. And so that's actually pretty great, you know, it's above that midpoint and these strengths that we identified specifically can really be kind of capitalized on. So, you know, that communication and connectedness to kind of fill in those areas for improvement and kind of, you know, propel them in the right direction to become more resilient in the future and in the years to come.           

Cameron Peters: Understanding a community's resilience and developing actionable and highly personalized ways to improve are especially critical as we face an increasingly changing climate.                

Leslie Kevles: Yes, I am a strong believer in climate change, and I see it happening. I'm not a puppy, I've been around for a little while, and I've seen everything. And the temperatures are getting warmer, the rains are becoming more frequent, with more density. I just see the air quality being poor, and I think that we are responsible. It's too bad that some people in government just don't see it, I don't know why they don't see it. I believe in the scientists and before too long, we're gonna have to do something or our great grandchildren are not gonna have air to breathe, they'll have to go outside with respirators on in order to breathe the air. Things are changing, I see weather is becoming more intense, and every year I see a little bit more.

Cameron Peters: For Leslie, the study offered him additional awareness.  

Leslie Kevles: But I think I thought about it more, I thought about what am I missing? Maybe I wouldn't have done that in the past, and I think the resiliency program may have made me more aware of my surroundings and my own responsibilities to me.

Cameron Peters: How does this study expand our understanding of community resilience?

When looking at the survey responses, three new patterns emerged.

First, having a strong connection to one’s community and their home in that community encourages residents to share information about the weather. Specifically, survey submissions showed that respondents with strong attachment to their community engage in a greater number of preparedness and response experiences, including safeguarding one’s home with shutters.

Second, limited experiences and skills are associated with reduced preparedness and response actions.

And, finally, greater preparedness and response actions were surprisingly related to lower self-reported evacuation than expected.

Such findings help us understand the complexity of hazard preparedness, response, and overall community resilience. By learning about the intricate web of community networks, structures, connections, and decisions, we are able to better understand the Estates community resilience story.  

Bridget Huston: So this study really helps to provide a richer representation of the lived experiences and capabilities of local citizens...So there's this huge kind of tapestry of interconnectedness between the different variables and compositions of an area. So I think that my study really allowed that to kind of come to light and we were able to kind of pinpoint what that looks like at this really local level, which can be, you know replicated for other communities and even more so, I think that the results from this study have proven to be a bit more policy and program actionable than results such as low or high resilience...
Cameron Peters: This research is exciting because after conducting highly localized studies with communities, we can then zoom back out with a possibly more complex and complete picture of resilience. Dr. Colin Polsky, CES Director and Professor, notes that this transition in scale offers research potential.    

Dr. Colin Polsky: Here in the U.S. you know, just looking in the Gulf coast, for example, Florida shares a kind of social economic, political, and geographic and environmental context with a large piece of real estate that goes all the way from Florida to Texas. And, you know, there's been a good number of hurricanes that have come barreling through this Gulf region since obviously hurricane Andrew, but certainly even just the time period since Katrina in 2005. And so the work that we're doing, that we did and hope to be replicating from the Estates is not a lot different from a bunch of the projects that have been undertaken say in new Orleans post Katrina or in starting to come out now or some studies about what happened, how people coped or didn't in Houston following hurricane Harvey, similar I think we'll find studies soon that are again, kind of local community based in Puerto Rico, following hurricane Maria. And then the list goes on. There's Michael that blew through North Florida. And then Sally, that just came through as well. So there's this kind of growing library of similar in spirit and nature community neighborhood level studies that are emerging. And what would be good to do that hasn't been done is to kind of put all of those into one big soup bowl and store them together and see if we can learn anything in common.
Cameron Peters: Even though the initial study has concluded, the relationship between CES and the Estates of Fort Lauderdale is ongoing. In Fall 2020, FAU held a Community Resilience Photo Documentary Workshop, a four-part series that provided an opportunity for Estates residents to share their perspectives and tell their climate resiliency stories. Through a series of workshops and photo assignments, participants provided glimpses into their everyday lives and their journeys through a changing climate. A culminating photo story was shared with the community this March.

And this brings us to the wider value of collaborative, placed-based research.    

Dr. Colin Polsky: Well, we really like to replicate the effort that we did in the Estates elsewhere in Broward County. And we'd also like to continue our relationship with the people in the Estates development as well. And there's kind of two goals here. One is to try and learn from a scholarly perspective, what are some of the granular explanations for how resilience gets produced or not? And that has some kind of intrinsic value for building on the knowledge base. It's also potentially of instrumental value for policy. But then there's a secondary motivation, and that is simply by engaging with people in this way. There's an awareness raising that happens and a visibility raising that happens about the topics in general. So through the awareness raising, we observe people are having conversations more about these topics which if nothing else gives them the kind of boost that they may have needed to feel ready to tackle these topics, because there's not easy answers to some of them and the topic is kind of scary. And so it's easy to ignore. I'm kind of hoping that the flood or the wind event won't happen. So by asking people to have these conversations for the research purposes, I think gets them to have the conversations outside of the research purposes, which should help them be more prepared.

Cameron Peters: In a changing climate, being able to assess and map a community's resilience is key to more effective hazard preparation and response.

Through research that recognizes not just the physical hazards or social demographics, but also the people and their strengths, challenges, complex interactions, and social networks, a more complete resilience story can be formed. And, with it, deeper environmental hazards awareness, response, and resiliency.     

Home and High Water is produced, edited, and hosted by Cameron Peters. Additional script editing by Bridget Huston. Music and Sound Design by Miles Shebar. This episode was engineered by Andrew Perelman. Theme music by Shane Wells. Special thanks to Jan Booher, Leslie Kevles, CES Director and FAU Professor Dr. Colin Polsky, and CES Research Coordinator Kimberly Vardeman.  
 Headshot of CES Research assistant Cameron Peters Cameron Peters
Host of Home & High Water

Neighborhood Climate Resilience, Part 2: “To Endure And Survive”

To better understand and document the resilience of a particular community, we need more complex and individualized information at the local level. In Part 2, we focus on what our research team discovered about the local landscape when they began to collect information about community resilience at the neighborhood scale.

Additional Resources:

  Featured in this podcast:


Bridget Huston
CES Graduate Research Assistant


Leslie Kevles
Resident at the Estates of Fort Lauderdale


Jan Booher
Heron Bridge Education, LLC


Dr. Colin Polsky
CES Director


Neighborhood Climate Resilience, Part 1: “Things Are Changing” Transcript

Leslie Kevles: Things are changing, I see weather is becoming more intense, and every year I see a little bit more. People here have told me, that are here more than 20 years, they have never seen the water in the locations that it is right now and the height that it is right now. This is the most we have ever seen here.                           
Dr. Colin Polsky: And so, if we don't dive in deep with the people at the people scale, you know, households and neighborhood then we would be left with making policy recommendations on the basis of these data products that we don't know how well they actually reflect what's going on the ground.  

Jan Booher: The piece that's missing is that it doesn't track ingenuity. It doesn't track innovation. It doesn't track people who have gotten together and are willing to work on something for the betterment of their community. And that is the genius of the community, and that is not being tracked.      
Bridget Huston: And I think, you know, bringing a voice and a story; multiple stories, multiple voices to the data helps to personalize resilience and Broward County as a whole, and not just kind of bucket everyone into the same grouping.                                                           
Cameron Peters: Welcome to Home and High Water, a podcast by the Center for Environmental Studies at Florida Atlantic University about research that uncovers how we live, adapt, and thrive in a changing climate. I’m your host, Cameron Peters.         

You are walking in the dark with a flashlight, but your mental map of the community is so clear, you don’t really need the flashlight. Maybe it’s your neighborhood, your workplace, or another place that you can not only walk through blindfolded while not missing a step, but know exactly who to find if a challenge arises.                  
How would you create a map of that community for someone new? It is also night. They have a flashlight. They probably need to know the physical geography, how to get from point A to B. But, is that all? What are the characteristics and networks of that place that are beyond the naked eye?                    
Understanding the social dynamics of a community: the people, their connections, interactions, strengths, and struggles, adds necessary texture to our map of a place. Without this on-the-ground information, without knowing what’s beyond a single flashlight’s beam of focus, our understanding of a place is incomplete.                    
In a rapidly changing climate, being able to map and quantify the vulnerability and resilience of a community is critical because it is often the first picture decision makers have of an area, shaping vital policy decisions from hazard preparation to response. To better understand and document the composite of a particular community, we need more complex and individualized information at the neighborhood level.
This week, we launch part-1 of a 2-part series exploring the resilience assessment that enables us to understand a community’s capacity to respond to hazards in one South Florida neighborhood and what a research team discovered when they began to shine the flashlight in new directions. In part 1, we learn about the resilience assessments that provide a crucial foundation to our understanding of community vulnerability and resilience. In part 2, we see what happens when we go deeper, collecting information at the community level.                   
[Music break]                
Bridget Huston: My name's Bridget Huston. I'm a graduate research assistant at the Center for Environmental Studies at FAU. And I've been there for about two and a half years now, working on community resilience projects and research that take place here in Broward County, Florida.         
Cameron Peters: Bridget spent her childhood in the South Florida ocean and mangroves investigating what was above and below the surface. This fascination led her directly into the natural sciences, exploring the physical environments she had spent her childhood uncovering. But, after graduating from university with a degree in ecology and conservation, she knew something was missing.         
Bridget Huston: When I graduated and tried to enter the workforce, it became very clear that, you know, there was a bigger picture going on and there always seemed to be kind of an element that I hadn't studied or kind of wasn't really aware of. And, you know, that would kind of refer to the like social aspect of environmentalism. So kind of the people that make up the environment, not just the physical environment themselves. So I think that just kind of realizing that that was a big piece of this puzzle in my career and in my evolution of, you know, my work, I got to open my eyes to like the different communities around where I live and how they're being disproportionately impacted by different climate events. Especially down here in South Florida with hurricanes, you know, just seeing how a hurricane would roll through and, you know, one community down in Southeast Florida, you know, maybe would be fine and, you know, would bounce back super-fast and then maybe on the panhandle, they would be experiencing those impacts for months. So just kind of having the academia background of knowing these things exist, but then actually seeing them on the home front catapulted me to make this my career.                 

Cameron Peters: Pursuing a graduate degree at Florida Atlantic University’s Center for Environmental Studies, also referred to as CES, Bridget joined the lab of Dr. Colin Polsky, CES’ director and a professor of geosciences at FAU. As a geographer and climate social scientist, Dr. Polsky works at the intersection of the physical and social environments.   
Dr. Colin Polsky: Climate change is a threat multiplier, so to speak. And so anyone who's kind of living their daily lives where the thumb's kind of firmly on the scale against them to begin with before the climate change is considered, is going to experience climate change as probably a threat multiplier in their lives.              
Cameron Peters: What Bridget was observing around her – communities exposed to the same storm, yet ultimately feeling its impact in dramatically different ways – began to spark new questions for her, shaping into a master’s thesis.            
Bridget Huston: So are there certain characteristics that are helping a community fare against a changing climate? Are there characteristics that are making it more susceptible? We wanted to see how this characterization compares to and even goes beyond the current methods that are out there right now.     
Cameron Peters: In Fall 2019, Bridget and Dr. Polsky designed a new project.      
Dr. Colin Polsky: The two main concepts that drove our motivation to do the work in and with the people of the Estates of Fort Lauderdale are vulnerability, and then what we might think of as the flip side or the other side to the coin of vulnerability, and that is what we call resilience.                 
Cameron Peters: Vulnerability and Resilience. In hazard research, vulnerability is likelihood of harm or damage and is shaped by three factors: your physical exposure to a hazard, your susceptibility to that hazard, and your ability to respond to the hazard.  

Resilience takes a different perspective by encompassing a community’s capacity to prepare for and respond to a hazard. As Bridget explained, resilience is “those characteristics that are really working to the advantage of the community to help them protect and safeguard not only the community itself, but the people within the community.” Importantly, resilience doesn’t just open the door to understanding how a community can ‘bounce back’ from a stress such as a natural hazard. It also opens the door to understanding how a community can ‘bounce forward,’ so that when the next stress occurs, the community is in a better position to face the stress.
Bridget Huston: So we have these two terms that kind of oppose each other, but at the same time, we'll work together to create this kind of tapestry of how hazards are impacting communities and communities are interacting with hazards.

Dr. Colin Polsky: So once we have the idea of vulnerability and the allied concept of resilience in mind, that begs the question of, well, where do you see it? Where can you see places that are vulnerable or are resilient, and that presupposes an ability to measure? That in turn suggests, well, what kind of data do we have? And so there's this ongoing struggle in the literature between what kind of data we need and what kind of data we have.  
Cameron Peters: Historically, environmental hazard studies have determined an area's vulnerability and resilience based on assessments that utilize readily available data, such as from the US Census, like the Social Vulnerability Index, known as SoVi, and a related assessment called Baseline Resilience Indicators for Communities, coined BRIC. Beginning with both of these assessments offered an important foundation, one we will return to in a little bit, because they are extremely helpful in identifying areas of potential high concern and in pinpointing populations in need of greater resource flow and mitigation efforts.

Bridget Huston: These sorts of assessments and metrics really helped to kind of lay the land and kind of you know, serve as the foundation for my study, they really help to paint a picture of the composition of the area. So who's living in these areas? What does the physical environment look like in these areas? What kind of resources are available? And the resilience dimensions of my project were actually based on the concepts of BRIC. So I basically took the resilience types and the variables from BRIC and then kind of, you know, adapted them and tailored them to Broward County. So which variables, you know, do resonate with Broward County communities, which don't, how do we push these further and how do we kind of evolve them to dig a little deeper and represent just a bit more of, you know, the composition of our actual local communities?
Cameron Peters: And that's where this project offered to go deeper, to explore what new information could be collected and how that might contribute to a community’s climate resilience story.  
Bridget Huston: So the project basically looks at characterizing resilience to environmental hazards within Broward County, Florida communities. So when I say environmental hazards, I'm referring to kind of a big group of different climate events. So hurricanes, sunny day flooding, severe wind events, severe heat events. And we were basically just trying to kind of hone in on those different elements and characteristics of places and people and communities within Broward County and kind of how they work together to either help communities, you know, be more resilient against these climate hazards or maybe make them a bit more susceptible and just kind of to paint that tapestry of the area at a really localized, personal level.
Cameron Peters: To study the impact of a changing climate within the community, Bridget and Dr. Polsky carefully chose seven major resilience dimensions to examine before collecting the data. These dimensions, inspired by BRIC, included communication, knowledge, social capital, mobility, infrastructure, institutional efforts and financial independence. Bridget hoped to discover what was making a local neighborhood more and less resilient to climate change through a community-level assessment.
However, before this project could begin, they had to find a community to collaborate with.     

Dr. Colin Polsky: And so we partnered with a local activist and scientist named Jan Booher who helped us find a community where we could experiment with our ideas that ended up being captured by Bridget's thesis.            

Cameron Peters: Jan Booher is Director of Community Engagement and Training for Resilient American Communities, an initiative of Health Initiatives Foundation, Inc., President of Heron Bridge Education, LLC, Director of Unitarian Universalist Justice Florida’s Climate Resilience Ministry, and an External Research Coordinator with FAU. Her expertise in community resilience and bridge building between researchers and local communities paved the way for relationship development and growth throughout the study. Having worked with a wide range of communities across Florida, Jan has noticed shared experiences.   

Jan Booher: The most common thread is that there are people who are expressing a plague of some sort, something that's bothering them and they're expressing it in very colloquial terms. You know, it didn't use to flood on the playground and now every time that it rains, it's a swimming pool down there, or the you know, we didn't use to ever have anything coming up out of the storm drains, but they spit now. And I can hear it when I walk by that it comes up and then when it rains, it really comes out on the street. So they're not associating these things with climate change at all, but they're very bothered by them and they are trying to find solutions to them. And that's usually the way things are when I come into a community. Also people have stories about the difficulties they've had in heat waves. People have been trapped perhaps in the upper levels, upper stories of a building, and they had to be carried down because there was no way to get an elevator that was powered. They had to be carried down on somebody's back because it was too hot up there, that sort of a thing. And they're not associating it necessarily with climate change writ large.  
Cameron Peters: In collaboration with Jan, Dr. Polsky and Bridget began to search for that community partnership.             

Bridget Huston: So the selection process for the community was kind of twofold. On the front end, we did do a spatial analysis where we kind of inputted different criteria that are used in a lot of common assessments to pinpoint vulnerable areas in the research field. So those were criteria such as income and age and infrastructure. And this process did kind of view the Estates of Fort Lauderdale community as being more vulnerable than other communities within the area. So that kind of geared us towards this community to just kind of put out feelers and see if they'd be interested, but it was actually, I would say the Estates of Fort Lauderdale kind of chose us almost, just because within our first interaction, we had an instant kind of connection. They seemed extremely interested and concerned. It just felt very real to them, I guess is how I would say it. Like the moment we got there, bringing up the conversation, they had a lot of different things to say, they wanted to tell their story. They wanted to show us different areas in the community. So it just felt like they were invested in a way that we were invested and they were really interested in seeing how this partnership could, you know, help them protect their neighbors and their community members. They're really tight knit groups. So I think that it just kind of naturally evolved into this partnership.
Cameron Peters: To figure out what resilience and vulnerability generally looked like within The Estates of Fort Lauderdale, Dr. Polsky and Bridget used SoVi and BRIC, the two commonly employed tools that draw on data collected from the census to create a separate vulnerability and resilience score.   
Bridget Huston: You can basically think of it as, you know, putting groups of variables and parameters into a blender, I guess, and then whatever comes out, so your final smoothie or whatnot is that one combined single metric of either vulnerability or resilience. You know, that's such a great place to start because there is so much raw data out there, but, you know, data can only take you so far when it's produced at these kind of bigger scales. Especially if you're trying to be hyper focused and hyper localized at a community range.    
Cameron Peters: The census data is powerful because it is reliable and can give you a big picture, incorporating values for household income, individual age and education attainment. For example, for a category like age, an older resident might be considered more at risk because they are less able to escape a dangerous situation. However, this might not always hold true. Strong social networks can add a critical layer of resilience. In addition, ‘high education’ as measured by college or graduate degrees is often taken to correlate with hazard resilience. But the training one needs to prepare for or respond to hazards may not be part of university curricula. Instead, electrical, plumbing, nursing, or carpentry skills may be the key for resilience success.
Dr. Colin Polsky: The SOVI and BRIC and the other products basically point us to, for a neighborhood like the Estates raising an alarm about the vulnerability of such a place, because it's composed mostly of people who are senior citizens who may not have the highest formal level of education who may not be the wealthiest in the County, and also who tend to live in mobile homes. All of those factors from the statistical analysis are taken to be indicators of vulnerability. And what we found is working on the ground, a more nuanced reality.        
Cameron Peters: In investigating, for example, a generalized category like education, Dr. Polsky and Bridget found a more complex perspective of resilience.       
Dr. Colin Polsky: Sure. If, you know, you're quite old and maybe infirmed, you're less mobile and less able to react to a flood or a wind event that makes sense. And yes, if you're in a mobile home, certainly one that's not relatively new, then it's probably not built to withstand strong winds. So that's not such a good thing, but those things we can put to the side for the moment on the question of education and on the question of income which tend to be correlated, we found that those aren't necessarily reasons for concern on the kind of vulnerability resilience spectrum. Instead, we found that education is kind of independent. So one's education basically, what's the highest level you finished high school, some college, college, graduate school, that type of scale, which is what you find in the census is really at least in this case study independent of knowledge and also smarts. And you know, what you need to be adaptable and resilient is knowledge and smarts and motivation. And so education just turned out to be not as helpful and perhaps counterproductive if we had just taken it at face value and not spoken with the community.

Cameron Peters: General vulnerability mapping of the Estates of Fort Lauderdale places them in a higher vulnerability category.  

Bridget wanted to dig deeper: to uncover and figure out if what was happening at the community level was reflected in this categorization, and if the addition of other measurable components might reveal a more nuanced and accurate picture of resilience, one not initially visible using census data alone.      

Dr. Colin Polsky: So we were trying to learn with them and from them, what factors lead them to be, in their own opinions, more or less exposed to wind and flood, more or less sensitive to wind and flood, and more or less adaptable to wind and flood.      
Cameron Peters: To do this work, the research team needed to not only develop an assessment tool wherein a more nuanced picture of resilience could be captured, but also a method where on the ground data collection could be conducted in collaboration with the residents.     

Cameron Peters: Next time on Home and High a more nuanced assessment of community resilience offers a springboard to new ways forward.
Jan Booher: If you really want to know what's going on, you have to consult the wisdom of place that's held by people who have lived in a place over time.
Leslie Kevles (0:24:29): And so my fear is when a storm comes, will I make it through that storm? I can't do anything to stop it, that's my problem, I can't control it. My kids used to call me the fixer. I would fix things to avoid them if we knew something was happening. I'm helpless here. I'm at the mercy of mother nature.  

Jan Booher: So I would say if you look at community vulnerability as the aggregate of individual vulnerabilities, then you're mistaken because very often it is the group or groups within a community that really hold the resilience.

Home and High Water is produced, edited, and hosted by Cameron Peters. Additional script editing by Bridget Huston. Music and Sound Design by Miles Shebar. This episode was engineered by Andrew Perelman. Theme music by Shane Wells. Special thanks to Jan Booher, Leslie Kevles, CES Director and FAU Professor Dr. Colin Polsky, and CES Research Coordinator Kimberly Vardeman.
 Headshot of CES Research assistant Cameron Peters Cameron Peters
Host of Home & High Water

Neighborhood Climate Resilience, Part 1: “Things Are Changing”

In a rapidly changing climate, being able to map and quantify the vulnerability and resilience of a community is critical because it is often the first picture decision-makers have of an area, shaping vital policy decisions from hazard preparation to response.

This week, we launch Part 1 of a 2-part series exploring the resilience assessment that enables us to understand a community’s capacity to respond to hazards in one South Florida neighborhood. In Part 1, we learn about the resilience assessments that provide a crucial foundation to our understanding of community vulnerability and resilience.

Additional Resources:

  Featured in this podcast:


Bridget Huston
CES Graduate Research Assistant


Leslie Kevles
Resident at the Estates of Fort Lauderdale


Jan Booher
Heron Bridge Education, LLC


Dr. Colin Polsky
CES Director

 Headshot of CES Research assistant Cameron Peters Cameron Peters
Host of Home & High Water

Coming Soon: FAU's Home and High Water

CES is launching a new science podcast in March 2021! Subscribe to Home and High Water, a podcast by Florida Atlantic University’s Center for Environmental Studies about our research that uncovers how we live, adapt and thrive in a changing climate. As researchers, our job is to witness and study the impact of human development and a changing climate. What are the stories behind the research papers? Each episode, go behind the scenes with our diverse team of social scientists, geographers, architects, engineers, economists, and environmental scientists as we dive into the science of coastal resilience. Join us as we explore stories that will take you from a flooded neighborhood street in urban South Florida to Georgia's salt marshes.

 Last Modified 4/1/21