Daniel Medina

Stacy Wright

North America

Stacy is a senior technical manager for Atkins in North America. She currently serves as program area lead and subject matter expert for the Strategic Alliance for Risk Reduction Joint Venture (STARRII JV) for all Risk MAP activities related to risk/vulnerability assessment and hazard mitigation support to FEMA. Stacy has over 18 years of experience in hazard mitigation, risk communication, mitigation project development and implementation, resilience, vulnerability/risk assessment, mitigation planning, and policy consultation. She has been involved in the post-disaster response, recovery, and/or redevelopment process for over 40 federally declared disaster events resulting from various hazard impacts. Stacy is a certified floodplain manager and AICP certified planner.

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The city, which filed for bankruptcy in 2013, is struggling to upgrade its antiquated stormwater/sewer system which is already known to flood surrounding rivers with the overflow of untreated sewage during wet weather conditions. And with climate change models suggesting an increase in the number of extreme storm events, there is a strong likelihood that the problems will only get worse.

There are seemingly endless stories of the woes of Detroit, giving the impression that the city is continuing to fall further each day. But amongst the perception and reality of these challenges, there are many dedicated people working hard to save the city they love. Often working with very limited budgets against monumental challenges, these individuals and teams truly have a vision for a New Detroit. Their unbreakable spirit is a reminder of the strength of Detroit’s people, and their optimism is also is firmly grounded in the present reality. The changes that have transformed the city have also brought new advantages—not present in the Old Detroit—as mutually beneficial relationships emerge between the city, region, state, and nation.

In 2014, as part of our partnership in the Strategic Alliance for Risk Reduction (STARR), Atkins began collaborating with the City of Detroit, FEMA Region V, and the State of Michigan to facilitate meaningful conversations to identify and implement flooding mitigation activities. As this team began examining the city’s flood risk, we noticed that the most value could be found by better coordinating all the various city department activities toward achiving their long-range goals while including flood mitigation actions. We sought to find win-win situations that would reduce the city’s risk while helping to improve the city itself.

The team’s first task was to identify the highest priority mitigation needs and local interests. At this stage, our goals sounded like “reduce flood damage in the neighborhood” and “create usable park space for residents.” Then we went to work to identify the specific local actions that could reduce the community’s risks while meeting local interests at the same time. At this stage, our tasks sounded like “raise homes above flood elevation” and “use Green Infrastructure to better mimic natural stormwater flow conditions.” Next, we started our search for the right people with the specific skills and expertise to get the job done, both inside the city and across the broader State and Federal team. These people worked together to identify the gaps and leverage other programs and opportunities to support the targeted mitigation efforts—casting the net far and wide to find solutions.

One of the best examples of this was the effort to get the city enrolled in the FEMA Community Rating System (CRS) program. The CRS program is a framework for promoting excellent floodplain management, flood insurance operations, and mitigation in a community. Nearly 1,400 communities across the U.S. participate in this voluntary program. And it’s clear why. Residents can receive significant discounts on flood insurance corresponding with the proactive efforts of their city in identifying, mitigating, and communicating about floods. Not only do the city’s residents become safer from flood damage, but they save money on their monthly bills at the same time.

But enrollment takes a concerted effort by the community. One of the key requirements is that the city must complete a FEMA Community Assistance Visit (CAV)—a review of current processes to ensure the city is adequately enforcing its floodplain management regulations. The CAV often requires communities to produce documentation dating back several years. In Detroit, this was a significant challenge, given the large-scale recent reductions in city government which lead to a high potential for misplaced records. But through perseverance and determination, the City was able to track down all necessary records and passed this key first step in the CRS process.

The need for flood mitigation was brought to the forefront again in August 2014 when a massive rain event paralyzed the city for hours and resulted in a Presidential disaster declaration. The disaster reminded residents of their flood risk and opened the door for supporting greater citywide mitigation measures. While Detroit’s work is far from complete, its strong-willed residents are effectively rebuilding their city from the ground up—thoughtfully, smartly, and safely. They inspire all of us through their “drive” to reclaim a thriving community.

We recently shared Detroit’s story and the successful techniques we’ve honed though this experience at the 2016 Association of State Floodplain Managers Conference, helping other communities benefit from the tenacity of the Motor City.

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