The Madison Hazards and Community Resilience Workshops: Summary of Findings report is the culmination of an engagement process focused on comprehensively reducing risk and improving resilience in the Town of Madison, Connecticut through a community-driven process. This effort identified the top priority adaptation actions for the town derived through stakeholder consensus. Since the finalization of the Summary of Findings report, the Town of Madison has received funding through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery Program to advance resilience recommendations identified in the project.
In the winter of 2013-14, a new partnership formed between the Town of Madison and The Nature Conservancy in collaboration with the South Central Regional Council of Governments. The partnership’s focus was on increasing awareness of risks associated with extreme weather and natural and climate-related hazards; assessing strengths and vulnerabilities; and developing actions to improve resilience within the Town of Madison. 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 Hazard and Community Resilience Workshops in the summer of 2014. 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 resilience 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 Town and a broad stakeholder network; and
- Identifying opportunities for the community to advance resilience 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 facilitated 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 Town of Madison; stakeholders also identified recommendations to improve the Town’s resilience to natural and climate-related hazards today and in the future.
Top Hazards Identified for the Town of Madison
During the workshops, participants were asked to identify the primary regional hazards. These included:
- Coastal flooding and storm surge
- Inland flooding
- Ice and snow storms
- Severe drought (related to fires in North Madison)
- Extreme temperatures
- Sea level rise
Many of these hazards are already having direct effects on several neighborhoods, natural areas (i.e. streams, wetlands, beaches, and parks), roads, and other critical facilities in the town.
Current Concerns and Challenges Presented by Hazards
The Town of Madison has several concerns and faces multiple challenges related to the impacts of natural hazards. In recent years, Madison has experienced a series of highly disruptive and damaging weather events including Tropical Storm Irene (August 2011), Storm Sandy (October 2012), and winter Nor’easter Nemo (February 2013). Impacts from Irene included significant coastal flooding, heavy-rain induced inland flooding, and wind damage. This series of extreme weather events highlighted that impacts from hazards are felt differently across the town. Participants noted that there are two primary regions in town with regards to natural hazards: the low-lying coastal area and the forested uplands of northern Madison.
One of the primary concerns expressed by participants was the vulnerability of Madison’s road network during and after extreme and routine events. Road blockage prevents emergency services from reaching stricken areas and reduces public access to evacuation routes and critical facilities like gas stations, grocery stores, and pharmacies. Strong concerns were raised about the loss and degradation of coastal wetlands and other natural infrastructure and the resulting increase in exposure of homes and people to storm surge and flooding. Like the rest of Connecticut’s coastal municipalities, the railroad tracks bisect (east-west) communities often in low-lying areas, making tracks and stations vulnerable to coastal flooding. Power interruptions due to winter storms cause heat loss in homes, which is of particular concern for elderly and less mobile residents. Coastal flooding (static flooding, storm surge, resulting erosion) presents a major threat to the town’s infrastructure, facilities, neighborhoods, and individual homes and property. Recent events suggested to the participants that the financial impact of significant coastal flooding could be considerable in the future and may lead some residents and businesses to reevaluate the costs of rebuilding versus relocations to less vulnerable areas.
Current Strengths and Assets within Madison
As a result of Madison’s recent experiences with extreme weather, the town is well acquainted with the existing strengths within the community. Reinforcing and expanding these supportive practices and assets will generate greater benefits to the community through increased resiliency against future storms, with greater frequencies and intensities, as well as long-term impacts from the ongoing increases in air temperature, precipitation, and sea level.
- Madison’s residents have proven to be a key asset during recent natural hazards. On a neighborhood level, residents face common challenges and have demonstrated a desire to help one another recover quickly. In the aftermath of Irene, residents witnessed a heightened sense of neighborhood or community, which only increased during and after Storm Sandy.
- The increase in neighborhood awareness and resiliency has helped to augment the overarching emergency management and social service provided by the town during and after recent storm events.
- Supportive social services such as the Senior Center activities, Senior Consortium, transportation systems for seniors, youth and family services, as well as faith-based organizations were highlighted as important community assets.
- Clearly, the responsive and committed leadership by the elected officials is a very much appreciated strength in Madison. In association, regional cooperative agreements with adjoining municipalities and state entities were cited as critical and potentially cost-saving outcomes of this dedicated and ongoing leadership.
- The marshes, beaches, and open space offer increased defense against storms through storm surge attenuation and capture for storm runoff infiltration.
Top Recommendations to Improve Madison’s Resilience to Hazards
The responses from the workshops’ participants regarding recommended actions to reduce exposure to natural hazards were broad and comprehensive. 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:
- Install highly visible evacuation route signage and develop/implement supportive communication program to ensure residents are aware of routes and expectations.
- For nursing homes and elderly care facilities, improve power supply with individual generators, and identify facilities in flood zones currently and under future scenarios.
- Engage neighborhood associations and faith-based organizations to develop cooperative response plans with the town via a “Neighbor Helping Neighbor Program” and develop neighborhood-based preparedness and mitigation plans.
- Maintain existing salt marsh resources and increase the sustainability of future wetlands by considering additional regulatory protection (increased setback requirements) and acquisition of advancement zones to prevent impacts to resources.
- Identify planning and zoning best management practices to ensure risk to property, structures, and natural infrastructure (beaches/dunes, wetlands, floodplains) is minimized during the recovery phase of future events.
Whelchel, A. (2015). Madison, Connecticut Hazards and Community Resilience Workshops. Ed. R.M. Gregg [Case study on a project of The Nature Conservancy and partners]. Retrieved from CAKE: www.cakex.org/case-studies/madison-connecticut-hazards-and-community-re… (Last updated March 2015)