Climate Vulnerability: Assessing the Risks to Manufactured Home Parks in the New Hampshire Seacoast Area

June 14, 2016

Written By: Dylan Kelly, Climate Vulnerability Fellow

Our work has begun!

Following a three-day orientation that facilitated the gathering of an incredible group of like-minded people with diverse backgrounds and perspectives, the twenty-one 2016 UNHSI Sustainability Fellows (and their respective advisors) have dispersed throughout the country to begin putting their unique talents towards a wide array of progressive projects.

The first of the ten weeks we have been given to accomplish our goals has come to a close and if it has been any indication of what is to come over the next nine weeks here in Durham, New Hampshire then the future is looking bright!

My interests lie in the realm of climate vulnerability, and the work that I have begun with Julia Peterson of New Hampshire’s Sea Grant Extension Office is focused around one particularly vulnerable group; the residents of manufactured housing developments.

One of the anticipated results of our planet’s changing climate is an increase in the frequency of extreme weather events, including heat waves, heavy downpours, floods, and droughts (Ross 2013:1, National Climate Assessment draft). These effects are not only anticipated, they have already begun. According to a recent Center for American Progress column entitled “Going to Extremes: The $188 Billion Price Tag from Climate related Extreme Weather” the extreme weather events of 2011 and 2012 in the US took approximately 1,107 lives and caused $188 billion worth of damage (Ross 2013:1). It is no secret that those of lower socioeconomic status, the elderly, and the disabled are the people who see the most destruction and suffering when these events occur. It just so happens that many of these highly vulnerable individuals reside in New Hampshire’s manufactured home parks.

There has already been a significant amount of work done with regards to manufactured home vulnerability in hurricane prone areas such as South Florida, the Carolina Coast, and the Gulf shores. Manufactured homes in these areas have a reputation for being poorly built, and are therefore unsafe in windstorms, which has resulted in the development of new safety regulations with regards to construction practices in each “Wind Zone” (See “Mobile Homes – Dispelling the Myths” from ACE Tempest Reinsurance Ltd. Published in CAT 360).

Here on the New Hampshire seacoast we are less concerned about wind and more concerned about flooding events. Obvious long-term risks exist for those who live closest to the coast with regards to storm events and anticipated sea-level rise, but we are also concerned for the residents of manufactured home parks that lay within the watersheds of some of our largest rivers (specifically the Lamprey and Exeter rivers). In the event of a flood many of these home parks could see significant destruction of personal property and displacement of their residents. Below is an example from 2011 in Illinois that shows what the worst-case scenario could look like.

NBCnews.com 2011. Manufactured home park in Carbondale, IL along the northern stretch of the Mississippi River flooded due to storm surge.

NBCnews.com 2011. Manufactured home park in Carbondale, IL along the northern stretch of the Mississippi River flooded due to storm surge.

Our country’s experiences with disastrous weather events have also taught us that vulnerability is not just a product of building codes. We will incorporate the concept of social vulnerability into our project as well. Recent studies tell us that the level of social cohesion and trust within a neighborhood is directly related to the ability of that neighborhood to recover following a disaster or extreme weather event (Ross 2013:18, Associated Press – NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll). The New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services has conducted surveys throughout the state to establish what is called the “Social Vulnerability Index.” This index draws on about twenty different variables for each census tract in order to produce a social vulnerability “score” for each area (Linked here: http://nhdphs.maps.arcgis.com/apps/MapSeries/index.html?appid=5402370557...). The percentage of mobile homes in each area is one of these variables.

New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services: Social Vulnerability Index, Mobile home percentages.

By drawing from FEMA 100-year flood plain data for the New Hampshire seacoast area and cross referencing it with the Social Vulnerability index we hope to identify which manufactured home parks are at the greatest risk for future flooding events. Furthermore, we would like to use parks with exceptional social cohesion as models for those where it appears to be lacking, and in that way improve the disaster preparedness of those areas. At the end of ten weeks we would like to have compiled a useful plan of action for highly vulnerable areas that can be distributed to community leaders in order to help guide their efforts.

It is a pleasure to be a part of this program! Our efforts this summer could make a positive difference in the lives of many of New Hampshire’s residents and provide a safer future for some highly vulnerable areas. I look forward to seeing how this project continues to develop and evolve as we move forward into what should be a very productive summer.

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