Experts think lessons from Sandy remain unlearned

Stamford — As the second anniversary of Superstorm Sandy approaches, an audience of more than 100 town planners, policy experts, architects and others heard a challenge to start applying the lessons of the disaster more aggressively in their communities.

"I'm still not convinced we've learned the lessons and internalized them," Collin O'Mara, president and chief executive officer of the National Wildlife Federation, said Wednesday during the Northeast Risk & Resilience Leadership Forum at the Stamford Marriott. O'Mara was one of the keynote speakers at the event, sponsored by Connecticut Sea Grant as well as the Union of Concerned Scientists and insurance and consulting groups. Connecticut Sea Grant is located at the University of Connecticut Avery Point campus in Groton.

The scale of investment needed to make communities better protected against the next big storm - which he and other speakers said is inevitable, and is likely to be worse than Sandy - is comparable to the Marshall Plan after World War II, he said.

"It has to be nonpartisan, and we can do it in a way that's wildlife-friendly," he said. O'Mara said restoring marshes, protecting floodplains and improving stormwater management not only makes communities better able to handle intense rainstorms and tidal surges and preserves homes and businesses, it also protects clean water sources and provides wildlife habitat.

During a panel discussion about the lessons of Sandy, Ethan Handleman, vice president of policy and advocacy at the National Housing Conference, called for resilience planning to include affordable housing.

"I want to make sure low and moderate income populations don't get left out of this conversation," he said.

Low-income communities in particular, he said, tend to be hit harder by disasters, and are less able to make proactive investments to protect homes and businesses. He noted that after Sandy, a lawsuit brought by the NAACP and other groups forced the federal government to change the way it was allocating relief funds so that aid distribution was spread out more equally to low-income and renter communities compared to middle- and upper-income neighborhoods of homeowners.

Tim Smail, senior vice president of engineering and technical programs for the Federal Alliance for Safer Homes, advocated that communities work to get information out to people building and repairing homes after a disaster about how to rebuild communities better than they were before the storm.

To help achieve this, his group has created guidebooks for volunteer groups such as Habitat for Humanity that provide step-by-step instructions about installing hurricane clips, anchor bolts, tie rods, gable end braces and other features on rebuilt homes in hurricane-prone areas. The guidebooks are also available for architects, he said.

"Now architects have a picture as they move from design to prints about what it takes to go from ordinary construction to resilient construction," he said.

j.benson@theday.com

Twitter: @BensonJudy

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