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Hosted by the Association of State Floodplain Managers

Focusing on Pre-Event Resilience Building—The Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance Approach

Held Monday, November 18, 2019 - 9:00 a.m.-10:30 a.m. Central


  • Michael Szönyi, MSc, MAS Natural Hazards Management ETH, Flood Resilience Program Lead

Description: In the last five years, a multi-sector alliance of the NGOs sector, academia and Zurich’s risk management experts has focused on shifting from the traditional emphasis on post-event recovery to stress pre-event resilience. More than 110 communities in nine countries have benefited from alliance projects. The evidence-based approach built through dozens of research papers published and implemented in the community programs across the globe illustrates the value of investing in flood resilience.

Flood resilience, however, continues to have trouble gaining wide acceptance and is held back by a lack of investment. According to the ClimateWise Investing for Resilience report, of USD $175 billion economic losses in 2016 that related to natural hazards (of which floods are a major part ) only $50 billion were insured. This $125 billion protection gap is due in part to the lack of evidence of “what works” and because there are few incentives and regulations to encourage investments into sound protection measures at all levels of society. That is why the Alliance’s objectives for the next five-year period will be:

  • Supporting the generation of $1 billion in additional funding for flood resilience
  • Encouraging effective public policy in support of flood resilience
  • Developing sound practices and policy support for flood resilience
  • Measurably enhancing flood resilience in vulnerable communities across the world.

“Floods affect more people globally than any other type of natural hazard and cause some of the largest economic, social and humanitarian losses,” said Linda Freiner, Group Head of Sustainability. “By using Zurich’s risk expertise as a global insurer, we can help customers and communities reduce the devastating impacts of floods - even before a flood hits - and build resilience to this disaster. We will work with the alliance members to raise USD $1 billion for investing into building resilience to floods globally – and save lives.”

Alliance members aim to achieve the financial target by rolling out best-practice community programs that will prove the value of resilience-building. The alliance members will share knowledge about the existing and future achievements to encourage various stakeholders to invest in resilience.

Target Audience: Planners, Engineers, Floodplain Managers and other professionals in the field.


Michael Szönyi is member of executive staff in the Group’s Sustainability function with Zurich Insurance Company. He leads Zurich’s award winning Flood Resilience Program, a multi-sector alliance with academia, humanitarian organizations and the private sector, aiming to enhance community flood resilience. The program, originally started in 2012, was recently extended to run in a second phase from 2018-2023.

With his natural hazards expertise, Mr. Szönyi is also responsible for advising the company and all alliance partners on risk insights and risk mitigation strategies as part of the program. A center piece is the implementation of the self-developed flood resilience measurement framework across currently 12 program countries with over 100 communities. In addition, Michael is leading the post-event review function PERC and manages the research partnerships.

Before joining the flood resilience program at its outset in 2012 and taking over as its leader in 2016, Mr. Szönyi previously led the Global Technical Center for Natural Hazards in Risk Engineering. He has 12 years of insurance industry experience, all with Zurich. He has significant expertise in property and natural hazards related risk assessments for commercial customers. He was nominated “Young Risk Management Achiever of the Year” in 2011. Mr. Szönyi has Master Degrees in Natural Hazards Management and in Geophysics, both from ETH Zurich.

For more information or assistance, please contact Kevin at kevin@floods.org.

Presenter: Michael Szönyi, MSc, MAS Natural Hazards
Management ETH, Flood Resilience Program Lead


Engineering with Nature for Flood Risk Management

Held Tuesday, October 15, 2019 - 3:00 p.m. Eastern


William Dooley, Policy Analyst, Association of State Wetland Managers [POWERPOINT PRESENTATION]



The webinar provided an update on the USACE Engineering With Nature® initiative, including the recent publication of the book “Engineering With Nature: an Atlas” that includes descriptions of 56 projects around the world. The growing international interest in leveraging natural systems and processes to support engineering functions, while also producing environmental and social value, is reflected in a number of projects, programs, and initiatives around the world, which will be used to highlight the lessons being learned as well as needs and opportunities for the future.


Dr. Todd S. Bridges is the U.S. Army’s Senior Research Scientist (ST) for Environmental Science. He leads a number of research, development and environmental initiatives for the U.S. Army and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the areas of sustainable infrastructure, risk and decision analysis methods, and sediment assessment and management. Dr. Bridges is the National Lead for the USACE Engineering with Nature® initiative, which includes a network of research projects, field demonstrations, and communication activities to promote sustainable, resilient infrastructure systems. He leads efforts for USACE on the use of Natural and Nature-Based Features (NNBF) to support flood risk management, including an international collaboration to develop guidelines on the use of NNBF for coastal and fluvial systems.


Part 1: Introduction: William Dooley, Policy Analyst,
Association of State Wetland Managers
Presenter: Todd Bridges, PhD, U.S. Army Corps of
    Part 2: Presenter: Todd Bridges, PhD, U.S. Army
Corps of Engineers

Reducing Flood Risk and Restoring Ecosystems through Science and Planning   

Held Tuesday, June 4, 2019 - 3:00 p.m. Eastern


William Dooley, Policy Analyst, Association of State Wetland Managers, Marla Stelk, Executive Director, Association of State Wetland Managers [POWERPOINT PRESENTATION]


  • Kris Johnson, PhD, Associate Director for Science & Planning, North America Agriculture Program, The Nature Conservancy [POWERPOINT PRESENTATION] 
  • Christine Shepard, PhD, Director of Science, Gulf of Mexico Program, The Nature Conservancy [POWERPOINT PRESENTATION]
  • Lily Verdone, Director of Freshwater and Marine, The Nature Conservancy [POWERPOINT PRESENTATION]


Kris Johnson, PhD
Science & decision tools to guide floodplain protection and restoration in the Mississippi Basin

A majority of the floodplains in the Mississippi River Basin have been converted from natural ecosystems to agriculture or development and are hydrologically disconnected and degraded. Protecting and restoring floodplains is critical to reducing flood impacts to people and property, improving water quality, enhancing wildlife habitat and providing other valuable benefits. Although more funding and capacity are needed to increase the scale and pace of restoration, floodplain management decisions can be informed by a new online tool developed by The Nature Conservancy to help prioritize important areas for floodplain conservation and restoration projects.

Christine Shepard, PhD and Lily Verdone
Strategic Property Buyouts to Enhance Flood Resilience: Creating a Model for Flood Risk Reduction, Community Protection, and Environmental Gains

Using post-Hurricane Harvey damage assessments for Harris County, Texas, we created a strategic approach to voluntary property buyouts that prioritizes clustering buyout properties considering their proximity to open spaces as well as additional environmental and social benefits. Our results show that prioritizing buyouts is cost effective and creates green spaces that add multiple values. This study provides a roadmap for buyout selection that can enhance open space, reduce flood risk, and create more natural amenities for residents to enjoy. In Houston and across coastal and flood-impacted regions nationwide, it can help leaders develop strategic buyout programs that create safer, more resilient communities.


Kris Johnson, The Nature ConservancyKris Johnson, PhD is the Associate Director for Science & Planning for the North America Agriculture Program of The Nature Conservancy. In this role he leads efforts to integrate science into collaborations with public and private partners to catalyze conservation and improved agricultural management across North America. Prior to joining The Nature Conservancy, Kris was the Sustainability Scientist at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment. He received a bachelor’s degree from Bowdoin College and an MS and PhD in Conservation Biology from the University of Minnesota, where his dissertation research focused on ecosystem services in agriculture. Kris was a Fulbright Scholar, a MacArthur Scholar, and remains a Senior Fellow in Sustainable Agricultural Systems at the University of Minnesota.

Christine Shepard, Ph.D., The Nature ConservancyChristine Shepard, PhD, is the Director of Science for the Nature Conservancy’s Gulf of Mexico program. Christine’s primary research focuses on assessing coastal hazards risk, quantifying the role coastal habitats play in reducing risk, and identifying where ecosystem-based approaches such as conservation or restoration are likely to be effective for risk reduction. In addition, Christine works to develop innovative spatial analyses and community engagement tools to help decision makers address coastal risks from climate change and coastal hazards like storms and sea-level rise. She co-authored the 2012 World Risk Report in partnership with United Nations University and was a member of the Department of Interior’s Strategic Science Working Group "Operational Group Sandy" deployed to assist the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force.

Lily Verdone, The Nature ConservancyLily Verdone joined The Nature Conservancy in 2010 to work on mission-driven projects with talented colleagues. Over the years, Lily has provided leadership on projects ranging from large-scale river restoration to state-wide strategic planning on coastal development; as well as, partnered with military, government agencies, corporations, NGOs, water districts and farmers to develop and implement strategies that achieve multi-benefit conservation outcomes. In her current role as Director of Freshwater and Marine for The Nature Conservancy in Texas, Lily is leading a multi-disciplinary team of marine, coastal and freshwater professionals to produce cutting-edge science and work with partners to integrate this science into on-the-ground actions and policy. Lily has two decades of experience as a soup-to-nuts conservation biologist addressing climate adaptation and urban conservation issues in California, Mexico and the South West. She attended Sonoma State University where she obtained a B.A. in Environmental Studies and Planning and an M.S. in Biology.


Part 1: Introduction: William Dooley, Policy Analyst,
Association of State Wetland Managers, Marla Stelk,
Executive Director, Association of State Wetland
Presenter: Kris Johnson, PhD, Associate Director
for Science & Planning, North America Agriculture
Program, The Nature Conservancy
  Part 2: Presenter: Lily Verdone, Director of Freshwater
and Marine, The Nature Conservancy and Christine
Shepard, PhD, Director of Science, Gulf of Mexico
Program, The Nature Conservancy
Part 3: Questions/Answers        

Floodplains and Green Infrastructure as Tools for Hazard Mitigation: Barriers and Funding Opportunities

Held Tuesday, May 14, 2019 - 3:00 p.m. Eastern



  • William Dooley, Policy Analyst, Association of State Wetland Managers, Marla Stelk, Executive Director, Association of State Wetland Managers [POWERPOINT PRESENTATION]



Rowan Schmidt
Leveraging FEMA Funding for Nature-Based Solutions to Support Hazard Mitigation

Natural disasters such as floods, wildfires, and droughts are increasing in frequency and severity in the US. FEMA has begun to recognize and emphasize the value of investing in the conservation and stewardship of healthy landscapes for mitigating the impacts of floods, wildfires, and droughts, as reflected by recent policy updates in 2013 and 2016, and is also placing a greater emphasis on proactive investments before disasters occur (PDM). Earth Economics supported FEMA on the economics behind their 2013 and 2016 policies and has been supporting partners in CA (post-wildfire), TX (post-Harvey) and other states to navigate these opportunities, conduct benefit-cost analysis, and apply for HMPG funding for projects that have overlapping conservation and hazard mitigation benefits.

Brad Gordon
Policy Barriers and Solutions for Restoring Row Crops to Floodplains

American Rivers has been working with partners to restore more floodplains in the Upper Mississippi River Basin. Most of our current projects are targeting repetitively flooded cropland to restore to natural floodplains. Through these projects, we have discovered some barriers that, if addressed, could lead to more restoration projects in the basin. Some current efforts include directing nutrient pollution reduction funds toward floodplain restoration, providing economic analyses for farmers in the floodplain, and fast-tracking disaster relief to floodplain easements. While the barriers are becoming clearer, we still need to connect the dots between more on-the-ground needs and solutions.


Rowan SchmidtRowan Schmidt has been a part of the Earth Economics team since 2010. From urban infrastructure to disaster recovery and resilience, he leads the organization’s work around finance and investment strategies for green infrastructure and also supports the business development team. His work has helped to support policy changes at the local, state, and federal levels by identifying key opportunities and fostering partnerships among diverse stakeholders. Whether he’s working with municipal utilities, federal agencies, multi-national NGOS, local community groups, or private businesses, Rowan is passionate about identifying funding mechanisms and policy levers that yield the greatest economic, environmental, and social benefits.

Brad GordonBrad Gordon is the Lapham Fellow at American Rivers as he resides in St. Paul, MN. He is finishing his PhD in Water Resources Science from the University of Minnesota, has an M.S. in Environmental Science from Taylor University, and has a B.S. in Biology from the University of Northwestern-St. Paul. His research has been on better understanding and improving the effectiveness of edge-of-field practices to reduce nutrient and sediment losses in agricultural landscapes and the role of vegetation in restoration success and water quality. These projects have covered multiple practices which include constructed wetlands, woodchip bioreactors, saturated buffers, restored wetlands, and ravine stabilization. Since starting his fellowship with American Rivers, Brad has been focusing on the nexus of floodplain restoration, flooded cropland, and nutrient removal. As he focuses on the Upper Mississippi River Basin, he is working with state and federal agency staff in agricultural watersheds to reconnect and restore floodplains.

Part 1: Introduction: William Dooley, Policy Analyst,
Association of State Wetland Managers, Marla Stelk,
Executive Director, Association of State Wetland
Presenter: Rowan Schmidt, Program Director, Earth
  Part 2: Presenter: Brad Gordon, Lapham Fellow at
American Rivers
Part 3: Questions/Answers        

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