Home Adaptation Alaska Village Shishmaref to Relocate

Alaska Village Shishmaref to Relocate


To go or not to go

The Alaska village of Shishmaref, for several years now, has faced an agonizing decision: stay or go. The necessary decision itself has never been that complicated. Sea levels were rising, protective sea ice was disappearing, and erosion was destroying several houses each year. If the decision to leave had not been made this year, then it would have been made next year, or the year after that, or ...

But nonetheless, when the town recently voted to move, the vote was close. One can only attribute the close vote to the emotion associated with ownership and stability. It's something that comes pouring out after every tornado, earthquake, or hurricane.

Those displaced are shattered, not only by their loss, but by the uncertainty of how to proceed: where to go, how to find help, how to replace jobs, schools, homes -- all of the stabilizing forces of life.

Who's next?

Shishmaref has a population of about 650 people. It is but one of 31 Alaska villages facing the same decision, and these 31 are likely not the only or the last. But it would be a bad error to think that these decisions are facing only small villages in Alaska.

Mainland cities of Miami, New York, New Orleans, and Boston are all facing the same decision in some form or another. It will be necessary to act on this same decision at some point--maybe sooner, maybe later, but it will be necessary.

Shishmaref and New York considered the same mitigation activities--seawalls, stabilization, raising buildings, and so on. One community made one decision. The other community will most likely make the other. But the point is that a decision will have to be made. No decision is not an option.

So--Miami, New York, New Orleans, Boston -- are you listening to what you can learn from Shishmaref? The lessons are significant and profound -- not just from what can be done through prevention and mitigation, but also what you will be facing in dealing with the human spirit that will oppose and object to the need to do anything. Both will be a huge hurdle, and you MUST be prepared to deal with both - -else your plan may not work at all.

Good luck.

Randall Cuthbert Dr. Randall Cuthbert is a retired APUS Professor of Emergency & Disaster Management. He has also worked as a Red Cross Shelter Supervisor, and spent a 20-year career as a US Air Force Civil Engineer Officer. His blogging interests include: protecting & enhancing the EDM profession in the areas of integrity, honorable public service, and social justice; education regarding the 'big picture' role of EDM in our society; educating our professionals and neighbors with regard to the greatest threat to our civilization--climate change; and in general terms, creating a better world for our children and grandchildren.