STRATEGY 7.0 Climate Resilience

aerial view of UIC's close proximity to downtown Chicago and Lake Michigan

According to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, with every 1 degree Fahrenheit increase in temperature, the air can hold 4% more water vapor. High atmospheric moisture levels increase the likelihood for precipitation events. Between 1958 and 2012, the observed change in heavy precipitation in the Midwest region increased by nearly 38% based on 2014 National Climate Assessment estimates. Without adequate flood and storm water management precautions, extreme rain events can severely damage infrastructure and cause public utility failure. Flooding intensity and frequency have increased in the northeast Illinois region, leading to property damage, traffic congestion, sewer overflow, and power outages.

Incidence in heat-induced illnesses such as vector-borne disease, heat stress, and heat stroke are rising, putting pressure on medical resources. Extreme weather events lead to health problems in our communities. Changes in climate also lead to changes in patterns of diseases that are spread by ticks and mosquitoes (BRACE-Illinois). Furthermore, the region’s agricultural sector and natural ecosystems are at risk of periodic drought. Although the frequency of these occurrences are relatively unpredictable, the overall increase in global temperatures pose significant risk for the physical environment, local economies, natural ecosystems, and regional residents.

The University of Illinois at Chicago, in coordination with the surrounding communities, has developed several key strategies aimed at increasing climate resiliency. This type of planning focuses on mitigating vulnerability and impact risks associated with climate change.  Climate resilience impacts many areas; several solutions in 7.0 are addressed in strategies 1.0 - 5.0 of the CAIP.  Additional solutions are being undertaken by various Vice Chancellor units and a few of the new solutions were created to address the advancing concerns of climate change.

Climate Resilience is the ability and capacity to absorb an external disturbance, maintain the core mission and the functions of UIC, and recover to previous or improved conditions.

UIC Stakeholders  |  2018

CMAP Climate Resilience ON TO 2050 strategy paper

7.1 ECOSYSTEM SERVICES

Environmental sustainability is the foundation of a healthy and resilient community. The natural landscape provides significant support for adaptive applications used to mitigate climate change.  With the increase of global climate change, heavy rainfall poses an increased risk to UIC and to the Chicagoland region. Due to Chicago’s position within the southern Great Lakes Basin, it is imperative that all city entities implement resiliency when developing risk mitigation and impact strategies.

As a result of potential flood damage and health risks associated with overflow of Chicago’s combined sewer system, Urban Transformations 2.0 – Green Stormwater Infrastructure Implementation Plan for the University of Illinois at Chicago was created with sustainability at the forefront. Through sustainable stormwater management precautions, UIC has positioned itself as a steward in identifying and developing resilient and transferable flood-reduction initiatives.

For many types of vegetation, particularly long-lived trees and grasslands harboring native plants that sequester carbon in biomass beneath the ground, there is a net drawdown of carbon from the atmosphere. But, climate change is already affecting the UIC tree population. Warmer weather and an increase in carbon dioxide leads to a longer growing season, however, if water and other nutrients are not present to support growth, trees will not thrive. Droughts will create drier soils and tree mortality (U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit). A majority of UIC’s current tree inventory consists of both very mature and young trees as well as trees in poor and fair condition that will be highly susceptible to climate change factors. Trees in poor condition are susceptible to wind damage, while young and newly planted trees are sensitive to drought. Thus, investing in sustainable landscaping practices have the potential to reduce the campus carbon footprint, mitigating the effects of climate change.

UIC has developed several key strategies in the CAIP that utilizes the ecological framework of the environment and promote a healthy relationship between the university and the ecosystem it belongs, this includes stormwater mitigation (CAIP Solution 4.1.1) pollinator habitats (CAIP Solution 4.3.1) and a robust tree inventory (CAIP Solution 4.3.2)

4.1.1 Green Stormwater Infrastructure Implementation Plan

To mitigate flood risks on campus and to alleviate stress on the city’s combined sewage system, UIC has targeted several key strategies outlined in CAIP solution 4.1.1 Green Stormwater Infrastructure Implementation Plan. The key to maintaining a resilient system is both responding to and proactively addressing potential risks. Developing a more sustainable landscape on campus not only decreases flood risk for students, patients, faculty, and staff but also for local and city residents by reducing pressures on the shared sewer system.

4.1.1 Green Stormwater Infrastructure Implementation Plan

4.3.1 Campus Pollinator Habitat Plan

The campus is prioritizing its role in climate change mitigation by increasing biodiversity and has a comprehensive list of  native and diverse plant species. It is important that the campus landscaping remain resilient to infestation by insect, fungal, and viral pests, and to storm damage. This concern can be addressed by planting a variety of different species. A biodiverse plant inventory also allows for habitats for a wide range of urban animal life, including pollinators.

4.3.1 Campus Pollinator Habitat Plan

4.3.2 Tree Care Plan

Maintaining a healthy and biodiverse tree inventory is a priority in building a resilient community. Preventative tree care strengthens trees to withstand disease and weather impacts that may be exacerbated by climate change. The presence of trees also support increased social interaction, passive temperature and lighting control capabilities, and physical and mental stimulation. Healthy and happy communities foster greater connectivity, thus strengthening social cohesion through a sense of fulfillment and purpose.

4.3.2 Tree Care Plan

7.2 SOCIAL EQUITY AND GOVERNANCE

Vulnerable communities are often disproportionately affected by extreme weather events and other environmental stressors. When socioeconomic fragmentation exists in a community, it is difficult to produce a unified solution to problems. Divided communities are often less resilient because of their dependence on environmental stability. These communities also have less economic resources available for recovery. Understanding this, UIC has committed to developing community engagement strategies and campus/neighborhood relationships. Therefore, in order to increase community resilience, UIC needs to increase the variety and number of community and campus interaction opportunities, events, programming, and dialogue via the following programs created by the Office of the Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs.

7.2.1 Campus and Community Engagement

UIC community listens to speakers

GOAL

Increase variety and number of community and campus interaction opportunities, events, programming, and dialogue.

UIC COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT

A resilient community is founded upon the basis of trust and support. Community engagement plays a prominent role in strengthening intercampus relationships and establishing clear and coherent communication pathways. Community division cripples communities by eroding social interaction and communication. By strengthening campus/community relationships, UIC will continue to support social unity.

Three campus conversations were held in FY2021 on zoom and were related to the national elections and the capital insurrection.

The LCC reported the following:

  1. Strengthen our public programs and dialogues on climate change and environmental justice (e.g. Climates of Inequality exhibition and series);
  2. Developed an internship ethnographic project with community partner LVEJO collecting community stories that link COVID-19 and environmental pollution in Little Village;
  3. Taught a crossed listed course (LALS 495/ ANTH 494/ MUSE 400) on Environmental and Climate Justice; 4) Started a national Mellon project with the Humanities Action Plan and a cohort or minority serving universities to expand the capacity of non-traditional faculty to work on climate change.
CHICAGO ENGAGEMENT

As the only public research university in Chicago, UIC recognizes its unique role within the neighboring communities. Community dialogue and idea sharing provides both the university and community residents with opportunities to collaborate and form working relationships. Designing a resilient framework requires strong visionary cohesion between stakeholders and the establishment of a communication network. The campus-wide project, the Social Justice Initiative (Office of the Provost) works to serve residents in underserved communities, providing scholarships, community engagement opportunities, and teaching. The primary function of this program is for UIC staff and faculty members to share their research with the community through a social justice lens. The Social Justice Initiative strives to promote inclusivity, sustainability, and equity through community involvement.

In response to the Black Lives matter protests of 2020, the Chancellor with the support of the UIC School of Public Health, UIC -Partnerships for Antiracist Campus Transformation (UIC-PACT), was established. Led by Dr. Jeni Hebert-Beirne, Associate Dean for Community Engagement at the School of Public Health; Dr. Jennifer Brier, Director of the Program in Gender and Women’s Studies; and Dr. Marc Atkins, Director of the Institute for Juvenile Research and the CCTS Community Engagement and Collaboration Program, UIC-PACT is a collaboration of members from across campus with the goal to identify various community needs and organize our university expertise and response.

PSPM received a grant from the Institute for Policy and Civic Engagement and hosted an Earth month event. Erika Allen of the Urban Growers Collective joined the UIC Office of Planning, Sustainability, and Project Management in initiating campus-community partnerships on the topics of community engagement, food and spiritual pathways to health, and technology and the circular economy. The event, “Climate Justice through a Circular Economy,” featured a plenary speech from Allen on Wednesday, April 14th, and breakout group discussions on Thursday, April 22nd. 45 participants were at day one and 51 participants were at day two. Recordings of the events are available here.

7.3 HEALTH AND WELLNESS

A healthy community is a resilient community. The key to reducing vulnerability is ensuring that students and community members have access to fundamental resources. In the event of an emergency, healthier communities are less susceptible to adverse environmental impacts. Providing resources to students and community members allows for greater independence from external factors such as emergency services, decreasing the magnitude of potential damages.

 

7.3.1 Healthy Community Systems

GOAL

Increase support for community health programs to mitigate the number of patients with severe medical concerns.

UIC’s role in the community extends well beyond the scope of a traditional academic institution. With a thriving medical campus, protection and support for patients increases the need to provide supportive services to community members. In an extreme climate disaster, emergency room patients – the most vulnerable campus cohort – must be sheltered. Maintaining healthy communities reduces the risk of straining emergency room capacity during extreme climate events.

Every three years UI Health performs a community assessment of needs (UI-CAN) with input from residents and other community stakeholders in partnership with the Alliance for Health Equity including physical and mental health conditions, challenges in accessing care, and the social and economic factors that impact health. One of the three high priority health-related needs is addressing social and structural determinants of health, including transportation, food security, and housing. The UI-CAN Implementation Plan identifies 58 programs that address the needs, including Better Health through Housing (#8) and Food Recovery Network (#28) that were also identified as climate resilience strategies.

Building resilience means reducing the potential of extreme damage that could cause system collapse during a singular event. The UI Health Hospital & Clinics’ Better Health Through Housing, a partnership with the Center for Housing and Health, aims to reduce healthcare costs and provide stability for the chronically homeless by moving individuals directly from hospital emergency rooms into stable, supportive housing, with intensive case management.

5.3.2 Food Recovery and Security

CAIP solution 5.3.2 is to increase the amount of recovered food and to reduce food insecurity among students as well as community members through the work of the Food Recovery Network and UIC Wellness Center. This is done by recovering (non-contaminated) prepared food for donation, which also helps address the problem of food insecurity in neighboring communities as well as amongst UIC students.

5.3.2 Food Recovery and Security

7.4 SUSTAINABLE INFRASTRUCTURE

As climate-related events continue to increase in both frequency and intensity, so too does the need for infrastructure improvement. Climate change not only poses a threat to human health but also significant risk to the physical environment. Understanding the roles that infrastructure can play in resiliency provides community stability and lessens dependence on the state of the climate. Through consistent evaluation and dialogue, UIC is in the process of implementing more sustainable modifications to existing infrastructure. This helps to foster a stronger relationship between the university and its surrounding environment.

 

7.4.1 Flood Resistant Buildings

GOAL

Conduct a survey to identify at risk building equipment and relocate equipment to less flood prone areas where possible.

Global climate change has significantly greater impacts on the natural environment than simply warming the atmosphere. A warmer climate can hold more moisture, increasing the likelihood of heavier and more frequent rainfall events. Changes in precipitation patterns will be one of the most prominent indicators of a warming climate. Because of the difficulty associated with analyzing precipitation patterns, it is imperative that steps be taken to mitigate flood damage to existing infrastructure. Most buildings on campus do not have flood controls. This is of great concern as several buildings house critical equipment in their basements. Flood impact risk increases as heavier rainfall events become more frequent. Water damage risk, caused primarily by surface water runoff during torrential rain events, will also be greatly diminished by UIC’s Green Stormwater Infrastructure Implementation Plan (learn how UIC plans to utilize green infrastructure to reduce surface flooding.)  However, there remains a risk of flooding, particularly in a 100-year storm event.

Additional flood-proof measures may be needed to address concerns where relocation is not possible. In planning for climate change and shifting weather conditions, UIC is working to evaluate potential risks and develop comprehensive solutions to lessen dependence on external factors. UIC will conduct a survey to identify at-risk building equipment and relocate equipment to less flood prone areas where possible.

Facilities Management reported that all campus buildings are at risk as all mechanicals and electrical services are located in the basements.  Relocating to another floor is not possible.

7.4.2 Backup Energy

GOAL

Develop UIC’s energy storage capacity and plan for building-level backup energy supply.

As temperature fluctuations continue to reach dangerous extremes, UIC has developed an emergency backup energy system. In the event of a power outage,  the campus has backup generators which can provide power to maintain functionality for the hospital and vital medical equipment for a maximum of 72 hours. In addition, many buildings support critical research operations and need backup power for emergencies. Reducing dependence on the electrical grid will mitigate potential impact on the university and surrounding communities.

UIC will become more resilient as the campus continues to develop UIC’s energy storage capacity to transform the relationship between energy demand and campus energy supply. Having a plan for building-level backup energy supply should include generators and renewable alternatives.

An onsite backup generator was added in previous FY, no long range plans have been made for renewable back-up. Sustainability team of PSPM will host lunch and learn on benefits of energy storage for campus stakeholders in Fall 2022.

1.1.1 SEM: Energy Conservation Measure

In order to maintain energy resiliency, UIC is dedicated to managing independent energy systems. As per the US EPA’s Energy Star Guidelines for Energy Management, UIC’s Strategic Energy Management (SEM) program is focused on maintaining continuity in increased energy savings and independence. Energy analysis identifies energy payback saving projects, energy monitoring, and financial sustainability management. A key component of CAIP solution 1.1.1 SEM: Energy Conservation Measure is utilizing technology such as building automation systems and controls that allow for more efficient management of energy systems in buildings, as well as easier detection of energy conservation measures (ECMs).

1.1.1 SEM: Energy Conservation Measure

2.1.2 Onsite PPA Solar Rooftop Generation

Reliance on a singular form of energy production creates dangerous dependencies. To achieve energy independence, UIC is determined to diversify its renewable energy portfolio. In the event of a catastrophic grid failure, diversification of energy supply allows for resilient and fortified energy production mechanisms. CAIP solution 2.1.2 Onsite PPA Solar Rooftop Generation calls to install 1MW on-site rooftop solar power.

2.1.2 Onsite PPA Solar Rooftop Generation

3.1.1 Transportation Demand Management

With 100% of UIC’s campus accessible by public transportation, UIC offers an ideal location for inter-community mobility. Resiliency is grounded in variation. If one mode of transportation is compromised, residents and students have access to several substitutes, strengthening the ability for riders to reach their destinations safely and on time.

CAIP solution 3.1.1 Transportation Demand Management includes strategies to ensure faculty and staff utilize public transportation (3.1.1.1 Transit Incentives for Faculty and Staff), ways the entire campus can more easily commute by bicycle (3.1.1.2 Bicycle Program), as well as a restructured parking price.

3.1.1 Transportation Demand Management

7.5 ECONOMY

Environmental resilience is measured well beyond the scope of ecological adjustments. Diversifying funding mechanisms for projects and implementation strategies reduces dependency on singular financial backing. Like environmental variation, economic diversity allows for a robust and resilient funding pool, supporting the essence and functionality of a healthy system.

 

7.5.1 Emergency Funds and Resources

GOAL

Develop alternative support mechanisms to increase access to external funding for emergency planning and equipment.

Emergency preparedness is crucial in maintaining a healthy and safe environment. The UIC campus has allocated $400,000 in funds to secure emergency supplies. In the event of an emergency, these funds can be accessed to provide services for students such as food or accommodations. Anticipating potential damage can mitigate future catastrophe.

7.5.2 Tax Incentives and Utility Rebates

GOAL

Support lobbying efforts for governmental support of additional alternative energy revenue streams that incentivize clean energy production.

Incentivizing renewable energy usage provides communities with the ability to transform long standing energy consumption methods. By shifting dependency from external energy suppliers, UIC will use external financial programs to provide revenues focused on performing additional energy stream opportunities. As a research institution, advocacy efforts may also be used to support legislation that supports new forms of tax rebates for alternative energy usage by other UIC and other governmental institutions.

PSPM and UES are monitoring the progress on the Illinois Energy Bill (passed in September 2021) and the Federal infrastructure bill. A number of opportunities are likely to arise from those in FY2022. VCAS will form a working group to strategize how to best be prepared for these funding opportunities across all areas of work and the CAIP.

1.1.2 SEM: Green Revolving Fund

Maintaining resilience requires routine assessments of potential impacts. Preparation of SEM funding mechanisms are predicated on the notion that energy efficiency generates cost savings. These projects would be chosen to specifically support solutions with a return on investment. CAIP solution 1.1.2 SEM: Green Revolving Fund supports infrastructure and energy efficiency improvements that generate cost savings to replenish itself. Supporting a thriving financial stream for efficiency projects ensures a structured mechanism for addressing potential future environmental concerns.

 

1.1.2 SEM: Green Revolving Fund

7.6 EMERGENCY PLANNING

As a major institution of higher education located in the third largest city in the United States, the university is vulnerable to natural, technological, and human-caused threats, emergencies, and hazards. Understanding environmental resiliency is a primary factor in determining an organization’s ability to maintain vital functions in the face of human and environmental impact.
Recovery is a crucial phase in emergency management, and continuity planning strengthens the university’s ability to maintain operations in the face of disruptive events. The UI Ready Continuity of Operations digital portal documents unit, college, and department priorities, critical functions, key resources, necessary documents, and action items. About 300 continuity plans adapted to users are housed in this platform for annual review, updates, and maintenance.

 

 

7.6.1 Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment

person walking in snow storm

GOAL

Conduct a hazard identification and risk assessment.

Natural hazards represent an event or condition that have the potential to cause fatalities, injuries, property damage, infrastructure damage, agricultural losses, damage to environment, academic and business interruption, or other types of harm or loss to the university. A Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment (HIRA) documents the identification and analyzation of hazards that impact the UIC community, and serves as the foundation and justification for the activities proposed in a university hazard mitigation plan, which is used both for pre-disaster mitigation and post-disaster mitigation grant funding.

The lead implementers of this goal are EPR. They plan to apply for funding with the state for both risk assessment and planning. Coordination with other authorities is key to obtaining funding and conducting the work.

7.6.2 Hazard Mitigation Plan

GOAL

Develop a Hazard Mitigation Plan.

Built on the HIRA, the UIC Hazard Mitigation Plan will be used to cultivate and foster constructive working partnerships for natural hazard mitigation, sponsor a more resilient and sustainable UIC community, and reduce the impacts and costs associated with emergency response and recovery. Hazard mitigation is the sustained action made to reduce or eliminate the long-term risk to life and property, based on a formal hazard mitigation plan outlining the process to conduct the program. Actions outlined in the plan may be minor and cost-free while others may incorporate more activity into an existing program.

With both a resident and commuter population, grant-funded research, specific risks and vulnerability, the university community greatly benefits from a UIC plan, as it provides long-term cost-effective solutions to challenges and issues. The plan’s goal is to reduce overall risk to the population and infrastructure from future events, which an approved plan is mandated to be eligible for post-disaster Hazard Mitigation Grant Program funding by the Federal Emergency Management Agency through the state.

The plan establishes an executable process from the HIRA of how to reduce losses from events, with support from existing grant streams. The plan is a resource utilized as guidance in reducing its current hazards by having resources, risk reduction strategies, responsible entities and historical information centrally located. The HIRA and Hazard Mitigation Plan are extensive projects and part of an overarching resilience and mitigation strategy led by the Office of Preparedness and Response, with support from the UIC Office of Sustainability, UIC departments and divisions, and UIC community partners.

The timetable for abstract submittal had been adjusted due to the circumstance around the response and recovery related to COVID-19. As such, some planned and current projects have been temporarily suspended to address the current and anticipated forthcoming waves / varying strains impacting the university, which requires the office to maintain a readiness and quickly change commitments to support campus response/recovery operations.