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Resilience in Airport Risk Management (Case Study: Miami), Part 1

By Wesley Long

When it comes to resilience within airport communities, there are very specific needs that should be considered. In this article, we will look at Miami, Florida, as an example that we can all identify, at least in part, with. Naturally the geographical location as well as past and present trends in weather events, political events, and geopolitical tension should be very closely studied. There should also be a strong understanding and implementation of all appropriate state and federal laws and regulations to ensure compliance of actions that maintain national resilience. This is easy for an airport to overlook among FAA part 139 compliance issues, but an airport can easily benefit from the design of increased resiliency programs, application of national policy, and inclusion of appropriate emergency management theories. This information can serve as a baseline example that can be mirrored across a multitude of airport types exhibiting the need for stronger resiliency planning for current and future implementation.

Disaster resilience and risk reduction (DRR) capabilities for the airport communities and the nation are stronger than they ever have been. However, with the increasing threats of climate change, terrorism, and an increase in global populations, DRR needs to continue to evolve and become ever more dynamic in its approach at mitigation strategies. It is necessary to face this issue with how EM theory can affect airport policy, what some key influences are within certain sectors as they pertain to resilience, and how to increase airport resilience in the face of a potentially threatened infrastructure (see the aforementioned threats). Policy and regulation are major components across communities, sectors, and the nation in terms of resource allocation, education, and response to recovery efforts across the globe (I highly recommend looking up WestDog/SeaDog partnerships). Understanding this relationship is essential in achieving the best possible resilient strategy and support.

As an example, Miami-Dade County, Florida, is a population-driven location at around 2.5 million people that is currently facing incredibly difficult issues with current and future resiliency in terms of what United States coastal cities are facing with climate change and coastal erosion. The Miami-Dade/Broward/Palm Beach metropolitan area has, as of 2016, become the eight highest populated area in the nation at more than six million people, and the entire network of these South Florida counties all face the exact same issues with resiliency that should make you think: What is down the road for your community/airport?

The residents are made up of mostly white, Hispanic, and African Americans, although there are other ethnicities with much lower numbers that result in the need to consider language barriers and other cultural issues in terms of emergency planning at all transportation sectors. There are also just under 900,000 residents aged 60 and older that represent a potential issue with emergency management in terms of aging populations and their special needs. If your airport doesn’t have a plan with the local ADA and senior citizens group, then you are well behind the curve. Looking at these numbers while assessing hazards, resiliency, and the ever-evolving nature of all disaster types will promote a successful transition from current to future resiliency standards and community-based needs. Areas with populations of this size will continue to grow as the above trend shows because of more opportunities for education, jobs, and diversity.

Using the same example, Miami-Dade County has done a remarkable job addressing current issues with coastal erosion while using foresight and preplanning to address future considerations as well. When contemplating the trajectories of potential disasters and their impacts in the future however, it is difficult to ascertain if current plans of action, resource allocation, and mitigation tactics are appropriate. It is necessary to continually assess and update future planning as disaster education grows, technology increases, and more and more airports hire their own emergency manager or emergency management teams. Considering all these aspects before, during, and after the planning phase is a great way to ensure that the efforts being made are as dynamic as the issue of disaster preparedness itself—I cannot stress this enough.

Current Resilience Critique
There are agencies airports deal with often, like the National Wildlife Federation, that offer solutions in the mitigation of issues such as coastal erosion such as changing the way development occurs in these areas that generally lead to the degradation of the ecosystems currently in place. This is also important to consider as local land and sea-based wildlife are also at incredible risk, which could mean larger unforeseen issues in a variety of ways such as changing migration patterns. This makes sense as average coastline recession is around 25 feet every year and can reach rates of 50 feet in the Southeast because of severe storms. Populated areas can suffer catastrophic effects if even one or two feet are lost. Regardless of current resiliency standards, more needs to be done. Resiliency techniques to consider include natural beach migration as well as causes and effects of man-made mitigation efforts such as hard structures to keep shorelines stable yet cause beach loss from scour.

Current efforts in harnessing stronger resiliency to the very real threat to Miami’s beachfronts include a $400 million project that includes installing water pumps on barrier islands and the raising street heights—a great example of what needs to be considered when trying to mitigate risk. This may be great for the main components of Miami-Dade’s current and future issues, but there remain major concerns for poorer areas outside of the immediate county and city’s concern. Resiliency in these areas are just as important to address because although they may not affect climate change problems now, they will pose issues in the future from the outside that in turn could impact the Miami International Airport in a variety of ways. Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all solution because these issues vary from airport to airport and city to city. A strong logistical approach to each issue facing both large to small-scale airport populations should be considered as they each can positively and negatively affect one another in terms of current and future disaster threats.

A strong resiliency program is needed for all airports as it only makes sense to look at the big picture, address its main concerns, then apply those risk management techniques to outlying areas and smaller communities. Dealing with the larger population centers has higher probability of success because of their resources and operational impact, yet also are in the most need because of higher coastal erosion threats. Dynamic relief-demand management is the key to the success of emergency logistics operations under the condition of large-scale natural disasters in terms of sustaining airport operations (keep in mind upstream and downstream airport operational concerns as they impact one another). This difficulty lays in what emergency planners and scientists currently know based on events and trends and what trajectories can be foreseen because of an increase or decrease in these issues over time. The current standard, as well as the inclusion of chaos theory which should always be applied to disaster, is not resilient enough to foresee an unquantifiable increase in weather events and the damage left behind.

The answer to exactly how to increase current mitigation efforts is not immediate but lays somewhere between continuing the mitigation efforts underway and taking more strategic and bold steps soon to include building up instead of out, more aggressive and out of the box erosion control, and even stronger scientific methods of storm and terrorism management for airports. Believe in climate change or not, the earth’s temperature will continue to rise no matter what we do today. This is something already in motion. Even if we were to take immediate action and engage in the best sustainable development practices, global greenhouse gas emissions will continue to increase for the next few decades, and I challenge you to think about how this will impact your airport regardless of geographical position. Unfortunately, there are some who take information of this nature as a sign that there is nothing that can be done in terms of mitigation so there should be no reason to take any action in reduction of issues that lead to faster climate change. In fact, looking at current trends in ways that may reduce climate change through action or inaction are great resilience tactics. Results not seen by the current generation or the next may be enjoyed by future generations as threat reduction catches up to future efforts.

In Part 2: Applicable EM Theories, Chaos Theory, and Constructionism and Social Constructionist

WESLEY LONG works at the Glacier Park International Airport as the fire chief, operations director and is a certified emergency manager, certified professional manager, ACE trusted agent, and Airport Security Coordinator. Prior to the 13 years he has worked at GPIA, he spent 10 years as a firefighter in the United States Air Force, spending six years in the Pacific Rim and four in Space Command.


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