By Nikki Pirtel
The shoreline community of Westbrook, Connecticut, situated halfway between New Haven and New London, is home to approximately 7,000 residents while supporting seasonal tourists with numerous beaches and shopping stores in the town’s outlet. It is also the municipality I was assigned to research and create a vulnerability assessment for during my time at the UConn Extension Office Internship in partnership with the Climate Adaption Academy and Climate Corps. Through the internship I achieved the Extension Office’s mission of using scientific research to engage with members of the public and municipalities, breaking down complex problems and developing easy to understand solutions that may help inform policy in the future.
Using the town’s Natural Hazard Mitigation Plan and various mapping services, I compiled a list of assets that I determined to have some level of vulnerability to climate hazards (such as flooding, sea level rise, damage from high precipitation events) primarily based on their geographical location to bodies of water. Although this information was similar to that described in the town’s plan, my created final product takes the basic material and provides recommended actions to reduce vulnerability, thus going one step further. With my help and the aid of future interns, the municipality can prepare for the impacts already being seen from climate change while simultaneously saving money. Figuring out the best way to protect assets and people within communities, whether proposing solutions on a town wide or specific infrastructure basis (an approach this internship takes with the Climate Corps Information Sheet), is an important discussion to have and comparison to make. Creating the vulnerability assessment was a rewarding process and the completed 38-page document (including references and figures) is something that I am proud to show to anyone willing to learn about the risk-based evaluations. I hope that the work done in this internship will grow into a much more substantial program and help Connecticut become a leader in climate adaptation.
Additional internship responsibilities included website updating and offering recommendations for a role-playing exercise that will occur in a new Climate Corps related class during the upcoming semester. These activities helped me reflect on past, similar experiences so that I could make any changes to proposed material to avoid previous problems I had encountered. Finding links to put on the Adapt CT website (through UConn’s Center for Land Use Education and Research) helped bring out my creative side and allowed me to delve into topics that really interest me.
Although attending meetings (except with the Westbrook town planner) and conducting a field site visit were not a part of my official obligations, seeing people and infrastructure in person really tied everything in the internship together. By seeing the people, along with their properties and other assets, that will be most negatively impacted by climate change in the future, my work felt much more important knowing what I did this summer may have a positive influence in time. Talking to members of shoreline communities from various backgrounds also made me realize that the climate will leave people of all classes vulnerable to events such as sea level rise, storm surge, flooding and tropical storms/hurricanes. Overall, this was more than just a summer job, rather a learning experience teaching me the ins and outs of local government, how input from the public affects an administration’s policies and the importance of maintaining natural landscapes within man-made ones.