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Increasing Resiliency of Cities

December 10, 2018

This PhD student’s unique research brought her from Northeastern University to Los Angeles to accept an award from the Homeland Security Advisory Council's Crisis Management Case Challenge. Mary Elizabeth (Lizzy) Warner, PhD Interdisciplinary Engineering ’20 and her team were awarded second place for their innovative proposal specifying how to increase the resiliency of cities. Warner researches Resilience Engineering and Policy within the Global Resilience Institute and the Sustainability and Data Sciences Laboratory at Northeastern.

Warner is enthusiastic about human and policy-oriented applications of engineering tools, and has recently aimed to look at societal responses to future climate extreme events. Her goal through this award-winning project is to advocate for “communities investing in themselves” to decrease crime and prevent future crises. If cities can invest in low income areas now, they will experience lower rates of crime in the future. Investments don’t necessarily need to be made only in traditional avenues like housing. For example, providing free WiFi to low income communities allows for easier access to job search, education resources and more.

One problem plaguing cities Warner identifies is that state and local governments are not incentivized to put money into infrastructure because the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will often step in to fill gaps. However, this drains FEMA resources and leaves less money for emergency response to disasters like hurricanes, floods and wildfires.

Warner’s team also investigates how investing in Opportunity Zones and preventative measures are less costly in the long-run and help a wider radius of people. According to the IRS, an Opportunity Zone is “an economically-distressed community where new investments, under certain conditions, may be eligible for preferential tax treatment.” Thus, Opportunity Zones represent great potential for cities to increase resiliency against future disasters by incentivizing their investment in areas that are traditionally most overlooked and vulnerable.

The Los Angeles Homeland Security Advisory Council’s Crisis Management Case Challenge brings together graduate students from across the country to exchange ideas and solutions to improve the management of crisis response. The Challenge’s top three winners receive a cash prize.