Employee Spotlight: Matt Wanamaker

by: Matt Wanamaker, AICP, PP, planning department director

The Navy Seabee Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery proudly says: “With compassion for others we build, we fight, for peace with freedom.” As Civil Engineer Corps Officer with the Seabees, I volunteered to protect my community and others abroad with those values in mind.

I came from a family with a history of civil service but didn’t know anyone personally who had deployed to either of our two recent wars, so my decision seemed to surprise everyone. However, I chose the right field to enter, because there are many direct parallels between my civilian job and military job.   Both involve determining where things should be built to address certain needs, and then coordinating with others to get them built. While I only got to deploy twice, they were valuable experiences, and I am proud of what my units accomplished. Most importantly, I brought all of my Seabees back.

Now that I have (mostly) transitioned back to civilian life that call to service has not abated. This Veteran’s Day, I want to highlight how common this is for those of us at Pennoni who continue to serve through our work at the company. For me, that means leading the Planning & Urban Design team as we advocate for improving our cities and towns, especially when it comes to adapting them to be more resilient towards the impact of climate change.

The Department of Defense now understands that climate change poses significant risks to national security, both from a projected increase in global conflicts exacerbated by climate-related instability and from impacts on facilities. Increasingly, Pennoni’s civilian clients are also realizing that climate change is a very real local issue as well. Temperature extremes and more frequent and intense storm events are leading to road closures, increased emergency responses and overall higher infrastructure costs. Planning is critical to addressing these hazards through a multi-pronged approach that involves extensive community engagement and forward-thinking guidance in policy and design.

The Planning & Urban Design team contributes to this effort through our consulting work to promote sustainable land development. Most recently, we have completed one of the first Climate Change-Related Hazard Vulnerability Assessment (CCRVHA) projects for Plainsboro Township, NJ. Recognizing the key role that local land use policies play in mitigating the impacts of climate change, state law was amended to require a CCRHVA be added to the Land Use section of Master Plans, to put it simply. This required Pennoni to evaluate critical facilities and infrastructure along with land use, leading to a set of strategies and design recommendations that will permit more sustainable and resilient development. Our success with this project has led to new opportunities to complete additional CCRHVAs and related projects in other states, positioning Pennoni to remain an industry leader oriented toward the future.

Through all of this, special attention must be given to populations considered particularly vulnerable to the threats of natural hazards. These include children, the elderly, households below the poverty level and yes…disabled veterans! These are those who are most at-risk to adverse health effects directly caused by major weather events, and those whose access to essential community facilities is comparatively limited. Planners ensure that these populations are defended by making their communities more accessible, resilient and equitable.

So, for Veteran’s Day, consider volunteering to help protect your community in any way you can from this very real threat. Most importantly, Go Navy, Beat Army!



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