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Meet The Woman In Charge Of Making Dallas Resilient

Krystina Martinez
Theresa O'Donnell is the chief resilience officer for Dallas.

Dallas’ new chief resilience officer, Theresa O'Donnell, met with community members this week for a brainstorming session. The task: figure out how to make the city more resilient. 

It was part of a program called 100 Resilient Cities. The goal is to help cities become better at handling disasters and societal issues. O’Donnell is charged with leading that effort.

Formerly the city’s chief planning officer, O’Donnell’s new job is funded by a two-year grant from the Rockefeller Foundation.

Interview Highlights: Theresa O’Donnell…

…how Dallas became involved with 100 Resilient Cities:

“If you look at the mega-regions, the mega-economies in the world, cities are where people are getting things done. It’s the most effective level of government – people have the most access to their government at the city level – so Rockefeller [Foundation] really understood that if they wanted to accomplish something in terms of resiliency, cities were the places to do it.

Rockefeller looks at both chronic shocks and chronic stressors. A shock would be any disruptive thing…like Ebola last year, or a flood, or a tornado…but they also look at what they call long-term chronic stressors, things that weaken the social fabric or the economic resiliency of an economy.”

….On the issue of segregated public housing in Dallas:

“I certainly see patterns of concentration that have been persistent for generations. That’s a weakness in the fabric of our city.”

…On the benefit of being part of 100 Resilient Cities:  

“I think the true benefit is being in this network of global cities. The problems that they’re going through and solutions that they’ve found, we can then network and discuss if some of those solutions might work for Dallas. So if gang violence is a problem, no one’s had to struggle with that more than Medellin, Colombia and they’re in the program, so we have the benefit of their knowledge.

We have access to these resources of these hundred other cities from around the globe. That, I think, is the true benefit to Dallas, much more than having a staff person funded, or some consulting work. It’s really getting to learn and partner with other cities from around the world that are facing challenges like Dallas is facing.”

According to the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities program, Dallas faces the following resilience challenges:

  • Aging infrastructure
  • Chronic energy shortages
  • Flooding (coastal and rainfall)
  • Infrastructure failure
  • Terrorism


Former KERA staffer Krystina Martinez was an assistant producer. She produced local content for Morning Edition and She also produced The Friday Conversation, a weekly series of conversations with North Texas newsmakers. Krystina was also the backup newscaster for the Texas Standard.
Rick Holter was KERA's vice president of news. He oversaw news coverage on all of KERA's platforms – radio, digital and television. Under his leadership, KERA News earned more than 200 local, regional and national awards, including the station's first two national Edward R. Murrow Awards. He and the KERA News staff were also part of NPR's Ebola-coverage team that won a George Foster Peabody Award, broadcasting's highest honor.