Partnering for Preparedness

When the Port of South Louisiana hosted the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) during the first week of March, aiming to discuss global partnerships that would bolster the economy in times of need, they had no idea how relevant those topics would become just a week later.

Along with the affiliated International Sustainable Resilience Center, Inc. (ISRC), UNECE and the Port detailed the importance of building public-private partnerships (PPPs) that protect, boost and sustain the local economy, infrastructure and other critical natural assets. A meeting such as this one, bringing together thinkers and leaders from all over the world, would soon become impossible, as stay-at-home and social distancing mandates paused face-to-face exchanges on even the smallest scale.

However, there is no place like Louisiana in which to discuss resiliency, even on the cusp of a global challenge like the COVID-19 pandemic. According to David A. Dodd, founding president and CEO of ISRC, the delegation was impressed by the variety of innovations in resilience developed and implemented in New Orleans and Louisiana.

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“The hardship of hurricanes, floods, the BP oil spill, tornadoes and other calamities the city and state have endured has resulted in a legitimate claim as being one of the most — if not the [singular] most — resilient places on earth,” Dodd says. “ISRC hopes to build on that progress through its dual mission of promoting resilience-based PPPs and integrating sustainable resilience into all PPPs.”

It was exactly the increasing number and severity of natural disasters around the world that first led Dodd to create ISRC, a 501c3 non-profit, in 2017. He found that there was a growing need to integrate sustainable materials, and to build structures to standards, in order to resist damage and destruction. “Those structures can be future-proofed to avoid costly damage, while protecting the people that use them,” Dodd says.

Resilience in PPPs — as with individuals, communities, states, and nations — means having the ability to better withstand, and recover more quickly from, adverse incidents. In addition to strengthening physical assets (such as roads, bridges, ports, and water and sanitation systems), resilience also relates to strengthening the ability of systems to continue functioning.

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Sustainability factors into the equation as it is directly intertwined with resilience. “For example, if a bridge is not strengthened and is destroyed in an earthquake, resources must be used to rebuild it, and some of those resources will be limited and most likely will have a negative impact on the environment,” Dodd says. “There [also] is a difference between integrating resilience into PPPs and developing PPPs specifically for resilience. For example, investing in electronic gauges to provide real-time warnings for flood conditions is a PPP increasing resilience, whereas hardening a bridge is integrating resilience into a PPP.”

As the largest tonnage port in the Western Hemisphere, it was important for the Port of South Louisiana to meet with ISRC and UNECE’s eight International PPP Specialist Centers to further UNECE’s principles of People-First PPPs. These principles emphasize inclusion, equity, transparency and zero tolerance for corruption, all as part of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

“The centers specialize in areas of water and sanitation systems, smart and sustainable cities, policy and law, local/regional capacity, road transportation, rail transportation, resilience, and yes, ports,” Dodd says. “The overall theme of this series of sessions, the first-ever to bring all Specialist Centers together, was resilience, and was considered an overwhelming success. A second series of sessions is now in the planning stage, with the theme of providing clean water and sanitation, again utilizing the principles of People-First PPPs.”

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In terms of Louisiana’s infrastructure, the state is not unlike others that struggle to maintain existing infrastructure while also building new roads, bridges and other public-use facilities.

“The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development has developed a robust PPP agenda and is currently involved in PPP projects; an example is replacing the tunnel and bridge on Highway 23 in Belle Chasse with a new bridge,” Dodd says. “A best practice PPP was developed in construction of the University Medical Center in New Orleans, where Children’s Hospital co-invested and assumed management of the $1 billion facility.”

Partnerships such as these combine the funding and operational effectiveness of the private sector with the public good of the public sector, resulting in more value for the money. Doing more for less, and for the benefit of all, builds capacity and competitive advantage, encouraging growth in local, state, national and international economies.

“PPPs are becoming more critical as governments struggle to provide needed infrastructure, systems and programs,” Dodd says. “This need is being increased exponentially by the disaster that is COVID-19, as governments pour out trillions of dollars to keep their economies afloat. Now, investments in health care and programs to help businesses recover will take precedence. Louisiana is already engaged in PPPs for transportation, and the impacts of COVID-19 will require new types of PPPs, such as concessions for operation and maintenance of critical assets.”

ISRC also is actively promoting Louisiana globally as the epicenter of new innovations and solutions in the resilience field.

“The resilience industry, prior to COVID-19, was a $90 billion per year sector with a 24.3 percent annual growth rate,” Dodd says. “COVID-19 will increase that number substantially. ISRC is deeply involved with the international community in developing ways to help the national and global economy recover successfully in the ‘new normal.’ PPPs will undoubtedly play a major role in those endeavors.”

ISRC depends solely on member support for its programs. Anyone interested in joining can visit ippprc.org and resiliencevip.com. Recordings of the Resilience 2020 sessions, and interviews of key local and international leaders, can be found at sustainableresiliencetv.com. 

United Nations Economic Commission For Europe | 2020 Resilience
Paul Aucoin, Executive Director of the Port of South Louisiana, with David Dodd of ISCR.

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