In the case of a flood emergency, there is little time to make urgent decisions. But what if there was a way to prepare answers long before they are needed most? Fortunately, the nationwide Silver Jackets program carries a mission to meet needs at every stage of a flood event.
Under a nationwide initiative to bolster flood risk management partnership between federal, state and local agencies, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers created the Silver Jackets program as part of the National Flood Risk Management Plan in May 2006.
How does it work? While led at the state level and empowered by federal partners, the program operates throughout the entire flood risk cycle (preparation/training, response, recovery, and mitigation). With this design, the program leverages resources from multiple agencies with a diverse set of capabilities and authorities. Thus, Silver Jackets acts as one team that can quickly and effectively channel solutions to communities in need.
“Everyone shares responsibility in managing flood risk,” Rachael Orellana said, who is the Corps’ Silver Jackets program coordinator for California, Utah and Nevada, in addition to serving as the Flood Risk Management Program manager for the Sacramento District.
The idea is that one agency may not have all the answers nor the resources for managing flood risk, but multiple agencies can combine strengths and resources to identify a solution.
In fact, the program’s ‘silver’ name colors the very nature of the team’s mission.
Imagine different agencies responding to an emergency. Each agency typically wears a jacket with an identifying color — for instance, the Corps wears red jackets; Federal Emergency Management Agency wears blue jackets. Together, the teams unite in their mission to reduce flood risk and increase public safety.
“I like to describe it as making a friend before you need a friend,” Orellana said.
After all, flooding occurs across borders and areas of responsibility. Therefore, the program aims to equally prepare everyone for floods.
Beyond the Corps and FEMA, federal partners include agencies such as the National Weather Service and U.S. Geological Survey. Participating state agencies usually have missions in hazard mitigation, conservation, and emergency, floodplain and natural resources management.
In 2013, California became the 40th state to form a Silver Jackets program and is led by the California Department of Water Resources, and a ceremonial charter signing Sept. 9 will serve as a formal demonstration of the program’s continued intent.
The California Silver Jackets’ vision is to reduce flood risk through increased communication, coordination, collaboration, and cooperation among federal, state and local agencies.
“California’s Silver Jackets program has a unique opportunity to bring together emerging leadership at the regional level with a broad membership of State and federal partners,” said Mary Jimenez, Silver Jackets lead for the State of California. “The program also has potential to help California begin to tackle difficult technical and policy issues needed to move towards sustainability and resilience in our flood systems.”
One of the keys to achieving sustainability and resiliency is helping at-risk communities understand their flood risk.
Although approximately one in five Californians live within a 500-year floodplain, annual surveys conducted by FEMA since 2010 have consistently shown that only 30-40 percent of respondents are actually aware of the general population’s flood risk.
This is one of the reasons why the California Silver Jackets program is involved in a variety of interagency projects aimed to prepare and train communities ahead of flood events. Projects include assisting communities with nonstructural flood proofing assessments, inundation mapping, floodplain management plans, and more. Multimedia tools are another way they’re trying to engage local communities, particularly through two engaging projects:
-Flood Awareness StoryMaps: By tapping into augmented reality,—think ‘Pokémon Go’— anyone using a smartphone can link to a multimedia ESRI Story Map to ‘navigate’ California’s flood risk story via photos, websites, videos, and documents; and
-Flood Risk Education Project: Outreach focused on educating students about the importance of flood risk management by funding multimedia and game application projects.
Currently, 44 states and the District of Columbia have organized Silver Jackets programs with a guiding document outlining each team’s vision and mission statements. Member participation is voluntary and based on available authorities and resources.
To learn more about the Corps’ Flood Risk Management Program, visit the USACE Institute for Water Resources website.