How residents can help cities stand up to extreme weather

October 4, 2018

Charleston is one of several Champion Cities in this year’s Bloomberg Philanthropies Mayors Challenge that worked on solutions related to extreme weather in an era of climate change. Others included Miami and Miami Beach, which like Charleston, aim to keep residents abreast of flood risks related to sea-level rise; Lafayette, La., which hopes to get citizens building rain gardens to lessen the impact of stronger storms; and Phoenix, which is developing plans to protect its most vulnerable residents from blazing temperatures that keep setting new records. All received $100,000 to test innovative new ideas, learn what works, and adapt their plans for a shot at winning up to $5 million later this month.

But when the city tested that that idea with residents, the app was a “no go,” according to Chief Service Officer Michael Hammett. Some elderly residents, among the most vulnerable to extreme heat, didn’t have smartphones. Others worried that an app might deplete their data allotments. Residents wanted to be in touch with the city about heat dangers but preferred simpler methods such as text messages.

Like Charleston, Miami Beach prototyped multiple versions of a smartphone app with residents. But as in Phoenix, the feedback indicated that a standalone app wasn’t what people wanted. They saw value in real-time flooding updates, but they thought it would be more practical if that were integrated into apps they were already using, such as Waze or Google Maps. Miami Beach rolled that learning into its final Mayors Challenge application, which is a joint effort with the city of Miami.