Chicago hires ‘chief resilience officer’ — whatever that is

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Chicago has appointed a chief resilience officer to plan for ways to recover from things such as the February 2011 blizzard. | AP file photo

What the heck is a “chief resilience officer” anyway? And how in the world did Chicago ever get along without one?

After announcing and filling the new job bankrolled by the Rockefeller Foundation, Mayor Rahm Emanuel struggled to explain just what it is that former Deputy Water Management Commissioner Aaron Koch would be doing in the newly created job.

The only thing we know for sure is that somebody other than Chicago taxpayers is paying Koch’s salary.

“When we used to make investments as a city — we’re making ’em in the water and sewer area or paving or playgrounds — we would see that playground” in an isolated fashion, Emanuel said.

“Now, thinking about how you make those investments . . . in a way that’s also an environmentally smart way to retain water and do it in a way where you’re not just creating runoff. [It’s] a way to see things in a more kind of integrated way,” he said. “Holistic would be another way to put it. From environmental to social policies to educational policies.”

Resilience is defined as the ability to bounce back from major setbacks.

That means the new chief resilience officer will focus on helping Chicago recover more quickly from “shocks like flooding or blizzards” and better planning development projects to minimize the environmental impact.

“The foundation is supporting this individual to help us think . . . from a holistic, more of a global approach. Rather than addressing that issue, seeing it in the context of a set of other both opportunities and challenges,” the mayor said.

If that sounds as clear as mud, Emanuel tried again to explain his marching orders to Aaron Koch.

“I asked him today, ‘Draft a memo that says, what have we done right? What could we do better that we have done right? Where are we falling short as a city?’ And over the next three years, prioritize those issues,” Emanuel said.

He pointed to his newly created task force on homelessness. It brought together the 13 agencies that deal with the problem “so we have a more thoughtful, integrative approach” and “nobody’s falling through [cracks because of] the siloed wall approach.”

Referring to Koch, Emanuel said, “He’s going to do it from an environmental, socio-economic approach. Some things will be infrastructure investments. Some will be investments in the human side.”

During a four-year stint as a deputy water management commissioner, Koch helped draft and implement Chicago’s Green Storm Water Strategy. The $50 million plan was described as using “natural systems to better manage rainfall and reduce flooding risk.”

Koch previously served as a senior policy adviser to former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

As Chicago’s first chief resilience officer, Koch will create a “resilience strategy” with “expert technical assistance” from the Rockefeller Foundation. He’ll also work with a “network” of chief resilence officers in other cities around the world.

“I look forward to working with stakeholders across Chicago to prepare for the stresses, shocks and natural hazards that we face now and into the future,” Koch said in a news release.

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