How do we build climate-resilient communities while also advancing equity for all, including people of color and others who have been historically underserved and adversely affected by persistent poverty and inequality?
The EPA states “Environmental Justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies.” Maryland has committed to equitably consider the disproportionate impact of climate events on socially vulnerable and underserved communities. The Risk Analysis team has been working with MDEM’s Hazard Mitigation Branch to identify and map areas in Maryland most in need of mitigation efforts and projects. Social vulnerability, equity, and anticipated effects from climate change are among the factors included in the analysis and mapping. MDEM will continue to coordinate efforts to reduce barriers to assistance in the equitable delivery of disaster relief and emergency management. Data collected will be used in all disaster recovery programs to ensure equitable delivery of programs.
By pinpointing all facets of past disasters and exploring knowledge of new and emerging risks, it’s possible to determine the likelihood of such events occurring and any accompanying community vulnerability. For example, the Chesapeake Bay culture and economy has historically been interwoven with surrounding communities. Due to being interconnected with the environment, these communities are at risk associated with flooding, coastal storms, and erosion. Implementing a framework for an integrated social and environmental response is crucial to ensuring all communities regardless of socioeconomic status receive the necessary help and resources.
Maryland’s Risk Analysis team is continually hard at work developing an all-hazard database of past incidents and disasters. This database will be used to predict future direct and indirect effects from climate impacts and events to Maryland. Changes in frequency, location, or type of incident from the past will be used to extrapolate the effects of climate change and project them into the future. The Maryland Department of Emergency Management (MDEM) is also developing a Maryland Mesonet system, which will help measure and document the impact of climate change on local weather patterns.
Maryland’s other projects will eventually inform emergency management planning. Because climate change has caused increased occurrences of severe storms, supercell thunderstorms, and the cloudbursts of heavy rain associated with them, the Risk Analysis team is building a Cloudburst model that increases the ability to predict flooding resulting from localized heavy rains. Due to climate change, extreme heat events are also becoming more frequent in Maryland as well as across the country. People who live in poverty may lack the awareness, means and opportunity to take protective health measures. The Extreme Heat Vulnerability Analysis project aims to identify those areas in Maryland where the residents are most susceptible to the effects of extreme heat. Social vulnerability is among the many factors considered in this analysis.
In addition, *due to food insecurity, “millions of Americans are afflicted with food insecurity and diet-related diseases — including heart disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes — which are some of the leading causes of death and disability in the U.S. The toll of hunger and these diseases is not distributed equally, disproportionately impacting underserved communities, including communities of color, people living in rural areas, people with disabilities, older adults, LGBTQI+ people, military families, and military veterans. Lack of access to healthy, safe, and affordable food, and to safe outdoor spaces, contributes to hunger, diet-related diseases, and health disparities. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these challenges further.”
Before the COVID pandemic, the number of families experiencing food insecurity had been steadily declining. But because of the pandemic, the United States is experiencing some of the worst rates of food insecurity in years. In 2021, Maryland lawmakers established the Maryland Food System Resiliency Council. The Council tracked changes from sixteen months prior to March 2020 and sixteen months after and determined the Maryland Food Bank increased its food distribution by 88%. In support of the Food Council’s efforts, MDEM’s risk analysts are currently working to identify and address areas of food shortage and supply chain issues. Social vulnerability and equity are the key factors in the mapping and analysis in this project.
Finally, MDEM has been evaluating and revamping the application of their Threat and Hazard Identification Assessment (THIRA) process. The updated process, once fully developed, will help improve local participation and use of THIRA products (executive summaries and tear sheets), as well as better incorporate equity and climate change in THIRA metrics.
Through FEMA Emergency Management Preparedness awards and other sources, MDEM will continue to develop innovative ways to address climate change and coordinate efforts to reduce barriers to assistance in the equitable delivery of disaster relief and emergency management. Maryland’s intelligent response and dedicated commitment to these critical issues have been, and continue to be, exemplary.