People of Weather–Ready Nation: Garry Harris, Center for Sustainable Communities–Atlanta

Date Posted: January 12, 2016
Spencer Hull

NOAA’s Weather–Ready Nation initiative is about building community resilience in the face of increasing vulnerability to extreme weather and water events.

In People of Weather–Ready Nation, we sit down with some of the people responsible for building a Weather­Ready Nation. We recently talked to Garry Harris, the Managing Director for the Center for Sustainable Communities–Atlanta and President of the Sustainability Solutions Group.

1. What does a Weather–Ready Nation mean to you?

Severe and extreme weather, due in part to climate change, can occur without warning and can have devastating effects. These severe weather patterns are expected to occur on an increased magnitude and scale. These effects are felt at a greater extent and long after the disaster event occurs particularly in vulnerable communities. These communities are often the least informed about preparedness and its importance.

It is important that we make all communities as resilient as possible through education; providing and creating “hubs of resilience” in these communities such as churches, schools, community centers when disaster strikes. Weather–Ready Nation (WRN) can help provide the necessary educational tools, resources and instructional guidance on critical aspects of emergency preparedness. Further, WRN can ensure participation of community and neighborhood leadership in these important matters in local drills and exercises and community forums on severe weather. Moreover, WRN can ensure the distribution of warning systems such as weather radios; cell phone apps, and other relevant materials.

2. How are you helping to build a Weather–Ready Nation?

Building a Weather­Ready Nation is not an easy task but we have taken on the challenge in earnest. We have created a large­scale collaborative of stakeholders to meet in regional forums to make recommendations on adaptation and mitigation strategy; building robust weather and climate monitoring stations and earth science laboratories; creating school based K–12 educational programs; coordinating drills and exercises with FEMA (America's PrepareAthon) and local organizations; participating in city–scale planning for resiliency and climate action planning with a broad set of stakeholders; convening community based forums and meetings that included severe weather preparation; conducting tours with elected officials, neighborhood and community leaders at the National Weather Service and The Weather Channel; participating in forums at the White House on severe weather and climate change and applicable policy.

3. What is the biggest challenge you see in making the nation ready, responsive, and resilient to extreme events?

Our biggest challenge, particularly in vulnerable and lower income communities is to create a sense of urgency and priority. These communities are already vulnerable due to stress that includes education; economics; job creation; high costs of energy; transportation environmental justice; however the effects of climate change and resulting severe weather and the need for preparedness is not readily understood.

A “Weather­Ready Nation For ALL” movement needs to be designed, developed and deployed to provide a guiding vision through an equity lens to help remedy and mitigate this situation. This may required a more deliberate deployment of resources and planning as well for these communities. Specific training and educational programming may need to be developed to specifically reach and educate these communities. For example, community vulnerability assessments; anchor institutions of resiliency; meaningful engagement of community populations in policy making and action planning.

About:

Garry Harris is the Managing Director for the Center for Sustainable Communities-Atlanta and President of the Sustainability Solutions Group. These organizations provide sustainability and clean energy strategies and solutions to make our cities, towns and communities greener, cleaner, healthier, safer and more climate resilient.