Resilience director seeks to help Norfolk bounce back
13 Oct 2014
If she does her job right, Christine Morris said, Norfolk may not need a resilience director for long.
Morris started her job as Norfolk's chief resilience officer three months ago under a grant from The Rockefeller Foundation. She will assess Norfolk's ability to bounce back after a natural disaster or economic hardship, including evaluating transportation, water and environmental concerns.
Then, Morris will find ways to help the city improve how it makes decisions affecting land use, the environment and neighborhood vitality.
"The question of how resilient are those systems is what the Rockefeller Foundation is exploring," Morris said in a phone interview. "It's a new way of looking at what is a very complex series of systems together."
Her annual salary of $140,000 will be paid for two years by a grant from the foundation, established by John D. Rockefeller Sr. in 1913 to promote well-being. Norfolk was among the first 32 cities to be selected for the foundation's "resiliency" grant, because of factors that include rising sea level, recurrent flooding, the threat of hurricanes and military security issues. The foundation will select 100 cities worldwide for the program.
Morris lives in Virginia Beach but has worked in Norfolk in a variety of jobs, including as an assistant to City Manager Marcus Jones.
From 2004 to 2013, she worked for the Hampton Roads Community Foundation as program officer, director and vice president. The foundation pools private money into causes such as charities, scholarships and art.
Morris helped create the Eastern Shore of Virginia Community Foundation and assisted in training its board and director. She also helped create Smart Beginnings South Hampton Roads, an initiative that connects the public and private sector to better prepare children for kindergarten. One project of the initiative is the NEÂ³W School in Park Place, scheduled to open as an early education program next year.
Jones hired Morris in 2013. She researched issues for him and helped promote a marketing effort alongside the Downtown Norfolk Council and Festevents that's been dubbed the Collaboratory.
Skip Stiles, the executive director of the Norfolk conservation group Wetlands Watch, said he met Morris recently and knew of her work with the Community Foundation.
During his first meeting with her, he said, they agreed that flooding and environmental issues extend beyond Norfolk.
"She and I both agreed this is probably the biggest regional challenge that we're facing long term," he said. "Can we as a region come together and make this work?"
Morris attended last month's City Council's retreat in Smithfield, where she answered impromptu questions from council members about poverty and child care in the city.
During her first six months in the job, Morris will develop Norfolk's plan for dealing with crises.
"I can't say what that will look like now because we don't have the strategy, but the idea is that when you create a strategy then you have to implement it," she said.
She will be able to tap help from other cities' resiliency officers, and organizations including The Nature Conservancy, Sandia National Laboratories, the data analysis firm Palantir, and Swiss Re, a reinsurance company with a focus on climate change..
Morris said she hopes that over time, Norfolk will begin asking new questions.
"If we're successful, it may be that this position is no longer needed," she said.
Patrick Wilson, 757-222-3893, firstname.lastname@example.org
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