The Bridgeport Climate Preparedness Workshops: Summary of Findings report is the culmination of an engagement process focused on comprehensively reducing risk and improving resilience in the City of Bridgeport, Connecticut through a community-driven process. This effort identified the top priority adaptation actions for the city derived through stakeholder consensus. Since the finalization of the Summary of Findings report, the City of Bridgeport has advanced many of the priorities and was recently recognized as a finalist for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Rebuild by Design competition.
In the fall of 2011, a new partnership formed between the City of Bridgeport, Greater Bridgeport Regional Council, The Nature Conservancy, Clean Air-Cool Planet, and the Regional Plan Association. The partnership’s focus was on increasing awareness of risks associated with extreme weather and natural and climate-related hazards, and assessing the risks, strengths and vulnerabilities within the City of Bridgeport. This focus was actualized through a series of initial presentations, individual interviews, and outreach to build stakeholder willingness and engagement followed by a series of Climate Preparedness Workshops in the winter/spring of 2012. The core directive of this effort was the engagement with and between community stakeholders in order to facilitate the education, planning, and ultimately implementation of priority adaptation actions. To reinforce this directive, the workshops had several central objectives including:
- Defining extreme weather and local natural and climate-related hazards;
- Identifying existing and future vulnerabilities and strengths;
- Developing and prioritizing actions for the city and a broad stakeholder network; and
- Identifying opportunities for the community to advance adaptation actions.
The workshops incorporated elements of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office for Coastal Management's Roadmap for Adapting to Coastal Risk within a visualization and decision-support process developed and provided by The Nature Conservancy’s Coastal Resilience Connecticut Program that relied on the Conservancy's Risk Matrix approach. Through this process, rich with information, experience, and dialogue, the participants discussed the top hazards and current concerns, challenges, strengths, and assets of the City of Bridgeport; stakeholders also identified recommendations to improve the city’s resilience to natural and climate-related hazards today and in the future.
Top Hazards Identified for the Greater Bridgeport Region
During the workshop, participants were asked to identify the primary regional hazards. These included:
- Frequency and severity of coastal and inland flooding;
- Storm surge from tropical storms and hurricanes;
- Sea level rise and rising groundwater;
- Snow, ice, rain, and wind storms;
- Droughts and extreme heat; and
- Tornados and earthquakes.
Many of these hazards are already having direct effects on several neighborhoods, natural areas (i.e. streams, wetlands, beaches, parks), roads, and other critical facilities in the city.
Current Concerns and Challenges Presented by Hazards
The City of Bridgeport currently has several concerns and challenges related to the impacts of hazards in the community. Many of these were brought to the fore during the city’s experiences with extreme flooding (March 2010), a tornado (June 2010), Tropical Storm Irene (August 2011), and an October 2011 snowstorm. Emergency management access and ability to evacuate residents and commuters during an extreme event were identified as a key concern. The immediate impact from flooding to critical facilities and infrastructure such as the power plant, airport, transportation routes (e.g., rail, primary and secondary roads, bus stations and lines), gas stations, energy transformers, private and public seawalls and levees, stormwater and sewer, and the city and regional power grid (e.g., generator safety, emergency generators) were raised. Concerns about environmental impacts to coastal and inland wetlands by storms and sea level rise were also identified, including the loss of ecological productivity and storm protection through a conversion to mudflats and open water.
Current Strengths and Assets within Bridgeport
The City of Bridgeport views its recent experiences with increasingly extreme weather patterns and hazard events as ongoing issues to be addressed boldly and with urgency. Actions that the city has already initiated are focused on several key areas of preparedness:
- New Emergency Operations Center with rigorous protocols, growing number of shared regional resources, and increasing level of training and expertise among staff;
- Recognition by the National Weather Service as the first “StormReady Community” in Connecticut;
- The city Police Department’s special water rescue team and general increase in emergency preparedness, as well as a full-time paid Fire Department;
- Increase in food supply assistance from the state coupled with new initiatives to increase local food production (i.e., urban agriculture);
- Ongoing dialogue between federal, regional, municipal, and neighborhood levels on response and preparedness;
- Compelling commitment for inter-departmental engagement to update problem-solving techniques and continue Bridgeport’s revitalization process, including climate preparedness and resilience planning;
- Strong social services network: faith-based community of 75 churches, sheltering facilities, and hospitals; and
- Rich natural resources, recreational areas, and green infrastructure that provide buffering, water storage and protective capacity to the City along with the Bridgeport Harbor’s breakwater and riverine networks.
- A financial allocation of $50 million has been made to address the all-too-frequent flooding under railroad bridge crossings and viaducts;
- New building code provisions are being developed that would increase building stock resilience to damage from natural hazards, improve public safety, and take sea level rise into account; and
- Strategic infrastructure improvements are being phased in along with new “green” technologies in sustainable design that will, when feasible, become part of Bridgeport’s future construction projects.
Top Recommendations to Improve Bridgeport’s Resilience to Hazards
The responses from the workshops’ participants regarding recommended actions to reduce exposure to natural hazards fell into several categories – pre-disaster planning and post-disaster response and recovery; development/redevelopment and infrastructure; and overall improvements to the city’s climate preparedness and resilience. Pervasive throughout the discussion was the need to proactively manage the risk posed by these hazards as well as the need to comprehensively assess the return on actions within an economic, societal, and ecological context. A few of the top recommendations include:
Pre-disaster Planning & Post-disaster Response and Recovery
- Strengthening existing communication systems to ensure a widespread and rapid alert system via expanded communication networks.
- Develop and install color code evacuation routes (i.e., signs and website) that is accepted and followed by citizens of Bridgeport and the surrounding municipalities and are linked to well-marked sheltering facilities.
Development and Infrastructure
- Improve ability of drinking water supply reservoirs to accommodate high-intensity, short-duration rain events.
- Reassess the capacity of existing flood control structures across the city, in particular, Ox Brook, Rooster River, and North Bridgeport.
- Expand the separation of sewer and surface runoff across more of the city’s water/sewer infrastructure (i.e., CSO separation).
Overall Improvements in Climate Preparedness and Resilience
- Reassess current capacity and needs of sheltering, cooling, and medical networks across the city as well as adjoining municipalities in the Greater Bridgeport Region.
- Continue to increase the effectiveness of the current emergency communication system and infrastructure with residents (i.e., communication trees) and commuters. Reassess effectiveness and shortfalls of emergency systems and infrastructure after major events.
- Increase community awareness and preparedness through education and outreach, via the religious communities, public libraries, the college, and the university.
- Protect and restore natural systems on the watershed and full coastline scales; replant Remington Woods Riparian Zone, Pleasure Beach, inland wetlands, and tidal wetlands (East End, Stratford Great Meadows, Harbor areas, Ash Creek).
Whelchel, A. (2015). Bridgeport, Connecticut Climate Preparedness Workshops. Ed. Rachel M. Gregg [Case study on a project of The Nature Conservancy and partners]. Retrieved from CAKE: www.cakex.org/case-studies/bridgeport-connecticut-climate-preparedness-workshops (Last updated January 2015)