Out of Harm’s Way: Community Resettlement as Climate Resilience

As the risks of extreme weather become more apparent, many US communities are working to adapt, build resilience, and reduce their risk.  Some communities are building their resilience by building flood protection such as levees or seawalls or trying to manage forests to reduce their fire risk. While these are important components of risk reduction, in some cases, there is only so much we can do to control the natural elements.  In some areas, to drastically reduce our risk, we must move out of harm’s way. This is not a simple prospect. Whole communities lie in risk-prone areas. People’s social networks are attached to their neighborhoods. Their livelihoods and personal identities are bound up in the places they call home.

This inter-disciplinary panel of practitioners and researchers working on resettlement projects will discuss the challenges and opportunities of community resettlement. Key topics include: how to engage and include the community in a respectful and meaningful planning process; how to develop programs and incentives that facilitate not just the buy-out process but also the “buy-in” process in a new community; and how to look to future risks with a proactive strategy. Panelists from the public, private, and academic sectors will speak to their specific programs, research, and experience.


David Lessinger

Senior Advisor

Resilience Practice, CSRS

David Lessinger’s career has been focused on resilience and sustainability, urban planning and redevelopment, and local government operations. His professional interest lies at the intersection of environment, equity and economics, and his work seeks to bring tangible solutions to these dynamic problems, helping cities find the resources and strategies to proactively address and adapt to an uncertain future while improving everyday programs and services. As a Sr. Advisor with CSRS’ Resilience Practice, Mr. Lessinger provides technical assistance to identify risks and vulnerabilities, develop strategic interventions, and design and implement resilience programs. Prior to joining CSRS, Mr. Lessinger served in New Orleans city government, most recently as Chief of Staff to the Chief Administrative Officer & Chief Resilience Officer and managed the City’s Office of Resilience. He is trained as an urban planner with a Master’s degree in Regional Planning from Cornell University and an undergraduate degree from Oberlin College.



Patrick W. Forbes, P.E.

Executive Director

Louisiana Office of Community Development

Office of Community Development Executive Director Pat Forbes oversees the state’s Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery programs funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Forbes’ oversight includes housing, economic development, infrastructure and planning programs for recovery from hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav, Ike and Isaac, and the 2016 floods, as well as resilience planning activities.

Previously, Forbes managed the Louisiana Recovery Authority’s infrastructure section and before Hurricane Katrina, he served as an engineer in the Governor’s Office of Coastal Activities.
Prior to his state service, Forbes worked as a consulting environmental engineer, owned and operated his own company, and worked at a paper mill.
Forbes earned a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and a master’s degree in Business Administration from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.


Risa Mueller, PMP

Vice President

Franklin Associates

Risa Mueller, PMP, is Vice President and Senior Public Affairs Strategist at Franklin Associates, a Louisiana-based project management firm. A native of Terrebonne Parish, Risa has worked in numerous fields including disaster recovery programs, since 2006. Her focus is in developing and implementing robust public engagement strategies which tie directly into real-world policies and in advocating within project teams to assure that community voices impact final implementation of projects.


Marla Nelson, Ph.D

Associate Professor of Planning

University of New Orleans

Marla Nelson, PhD, AICP is a Professor in the Department of Planning and Urban Studies at the University of New Orleans. Nelson’s expertise is in inclusive, equitable development and adaptation. Nelson has published widely on post-disaster recovery and redevelopment and on relocation policy as a critical site of action for residents and communities made more vulnerable by natural hazards and land loss. Nelson received her BA in economics from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and her MCRP and PhD in urban planning and policy development from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey.