Our clients and the environmental infrastructure market are quickly adapting to business priorities shifting toward climate resilience. With a greater demand for resources by a burgeoning population, impacts from extreme weather events are posing a much larger threat to the global economy and environment. For over a decade, Weston has helped our clients anticipate and respond to climate-related risks, opportunities, and impacts throughout all phases of project life cycles.
Tracking the Shift from Reactive to Proactive: Mitigation and Preparedness
The severity of impacts from climate extremes relies heavily on the actions we take in advance. Fully recognizing their call to action, our clients are reprioritizing preparedness alongside response. Now more than ever, they are assessing risks, planning for impacts, and designing strategies to make our built and natural environments more resilient to climate change. Government and commercial entities, in fact, are producing predictive maps of extreme weather events to integrate climate-related financial risk into their asset management. Under the direction of EPA, we are readying federal, state, and local stakeholders against the consequences of climate extremes. Through our EPA contracts, we are using Weston-developed tools and processes and writing playbooks with standard operating procedures to enhance preparedness.
Common operational pictures (COPs), or comprehensive pictures of current activities in incident response, provide situational awareness to facilitate the decision-making process. With support from our geographic information systems (GIS) specialists, our clients gather geospatial data from satellite imagery, artificial intelligence (AI), and sensor networks to develop COPs. Digital twins, or virtual models of physical assets, help our clients predict potential problems before they arise and take actions to avert those problems. Through stormwater modeling, for example, our municipal clients account for vulnerability and resilience in design of their drainage systems to handle flood events more adeptly. Moving forward, the increasing use and accessibility of predictive analytics will continue to refine the concept of “preparedness” and revolutionize traditional processes for decision making.
Building Upon a Proactive Foundation: Response and Recovery
Witnessing firsthand the heavy toll of climate change, Weston helps our clients manage response and recovery by implementing a methodical, flexible approach. We have served as a major contractor to the USACE since 1995, striving to meet the continuous demand of military installations and local communities through timely, organized, and consistent response actions. These actions have ranged from terrorism response (i.e., biological, chemical, or other weapons of mass destruction) to natural disaster response (e.g., earthquake, hurricane, wildfire).
Over the past few decades, Weston has enacted significant changes in our service delivery by leveraging GIS software to guide response and recovery priorities, such as data capture and visualization. Geospatial intelligence has evolved beyond GIS to include advanced remote sensing and spatial analysis, allowing for more dynamic interaction with data. Because of the surge in climate-related events and need for resilient infrastructure, we anticipate rapid growth in the market for geospatial solutions and technologies.
With the added emphasis on geospatial intelligence, and with widespread digital connectivity, the general public expects accessible, evidence-based information that incorporates data visuals. Weston recognizes our federal clients’ growing collaborative efforts in multi-agency information sharing to provide real-time data to all affected stakeholders. Largely managed by FEMA, these efforts have helped clarify the situation at hand and drive strategic initiatives. It is incumbent on responders to provide public sector leadership with a COP that synthesizes multiple variables across an impacted area.
Enterprise-level situational awareness, developed from a COP, facilitates data-driven decision making and communication necessary in a world susceptible to climate extremes. Following an extreme event, restoring normalcy is no longer sufficient. Instead, crisis communication must outpace the potential spread of conflicting information to move response and recovery efforts forward in a positive direction. In the years ahead, Weston envisions continued use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and near real-time satellite imagery to quickly shorten turnaround times for stakeholder communication, precisely identify points of vulnerability, and rapidly deploy resources to reduce the impacts of climate change.
Looking Toward the Future
We at Weston are aligning our forward focus with the 2022–2026 FEMA Strategic Plan, which outlines three ambitious yet achievable goals: equity, climate resilience, and readiness. The goal of “equity” underscores the importance of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors. Response and recovery will continue tailoring solutions to meet the needs of specific populations over using a “one-size-fits-all” approach. Weston anticipates future requirements to report on emergency needs of vulnerable populations impacted by disasters. Regarding “climate resilience,” the cascading effects of climate change have motivated our clients to shift recovery activities more toward risk mitigation before the next disaster strikes. Neither federal agencies nor the private sector can afford the cost of constantly recovering. Finally, “readiness” will always be a cornerstone of emergency management. However, we understand that public and private sectors are moving toward integrating non-Stafford Act recovery into their emergency management, for incidents in which federal resources are not made available to state, local, and tribal governments. This integration is one example of enhancing resilience and security through a “whole community” approach.
In addition to these three trajectories, we expect automation and the internet of things (e.g., a system of smart enabled devices) to continue transforming the productivity of response and recovery operations, particularly with high-speed data transmission and AI. Similar to the evolution of remotely operated vehicles and submersibles in ocean exploration, robotics, drones, sensors, and machine learning are crossing cost-effective and technological barriers—eliminating the risk of putting people in harm’s way to accomplish project objectives.
With an eye toward advancement and innovation, Weston remains eager to make both mitigation and response strategies more efficient and effective. We recognize the importance of readily accessible information to our communities. After all, our greatest pride lies in our workforce’s ability to swiftly organize, deploy, and adapt to ever-changing conditions and needs as they relate to climate change.