Risks posed by coastal storms are increasing, both to people and to property. As explained in Chapter 1, the growing risk is due both to demographics and to changing natural conditions: population along the coast has expanded and will continue to do so, while sea-level rise and climate change are compounding the threat in the next few decades. Yet, there is no comprehensive national policy on coastal risk that addresses these diverse risk factors. Rather, a complex set of federal, state, and local authorities and agencies addresses these challenges with differing and sometimes conflicting mandates, policies, and approaches. To effectively address the hazards posed by coastal storms, the nation needs a consistent and unified vision for coastal risk reduction. The longer we delay, the more complex the challenge becomes.
The nation’s investments in coastal risk reduction are inconsistent and primarily reactive, driven by the latest disaster. As previously described in Chapter 2, the nation readily spends billions of dollars in the wake of disaster, when a significantly smaller investment in mitigation might have averted the calamity in the first place. Congressional authorization for major coastal risk reduction projects occurs when attention is focused on a recent disaster. Once attention fades, the public no longer identifies accumulating coastal risk as a problem worth serious investments, and congressional attention is diverted to other issues. This is inefficient. It falls short of using limited public funds to maximize public safety and to protect property.
A return-on-investment approach to public coastal risk reduction decisions constrained by life-safety and other difficult-to-monetize factors can help rationalize decisions and provide a transparent framework for ana
lyzing alternatives—information necessary to create more resilient coastal communities. This chapter builds upon the information provided in Chapter 4 and provides recommendations for improving the national effort toward a comprehensive vision for reducing coastal risk.
The nation lacks a unifying policy on coastal risks, as it lacks a unifying policy on riverine flood risks. While the concept of a national policy for the coasts is not welcomed by all interests, in part, because it will inevitably have an impact on the status quo, the nation as a whole suffers by its absence. The absence of national policy means that different federal agencies and regional and local jurisdictions plan for and invest in risk reduction in ways that are often inconsistent, leading to inefficient and, too often, inadequate outcomes.
Coastal risk management requires the coordination of efforts that are presently spread across many agencies (see Chapter 2). Today, coastal risk management programs are often uninformed by one another, and their effectiveness is measured against narrow objectives, rather than consistent, overarching national goals. Countervailing policies and federal programs exist that subsidize flood insurance, provide infrastructure investment, and fund emergency response in hazardous areas. Although many federal policies are in place to prevent unwise use of coastal hazard areas, they are biased to maintaining the status quo and often include broad exceptions, grandfathering of previous development, and predisposition to permit post-disaster rebuilding.
Effective coastal risk management necessitates a long-term vision and a comprehensive approach that considers the full array of benefits. Coastal risk management projects have economic and life-safety benefits. They also affect social and ecological systems. Coastal risk management planners, therefore, need to consider this full array of benefits (see Chapter 4) and work collaboratively with related programs, such as housing and development strategies, environmental restoration activities, sustainable economic development programs, and state and local hazard mitigation and adaptation initiatives. In today’s coastal management programs, there is limited focus on long-term resilience, planning for future conditions, or comprehensive consideration of nonstructural alternatives for coastal risk reduction. A holistic vision for the coasts would “help ensure continued social, economic, and environmental viability of the nation’s precious coastal resources and communities, while minimizing the risks and costs of coastal hazards for present and future generations” (ASFPM Foundation, 2013).
The following steps are key components of developing a national vision for coastal risk management. These build on recent reports of the Association of State Floodplain Managers Foundation (ASFPM Foundation, 2010, 2013), which recommend steps for achieving a national vision for both inland floodplain and coastal risk management.
- Establish national objectives for coastal risk reduction. A key challenge of coastal risk management is the lack of common goals for coastal planning and risk reduction, based on the diversity of entities involved with differing levels of risk, resources, reward, and responsibility (see Chapter 2). Although planning takes place at a local level, the federal government can work collaboratively with state and local governments to craft a vision for sustainable coastal communities and identify objectives and metrics that can serve as risk reduction targets. These objectives and metrics will help localities determine necessary actions and enable assessments of progress toward this vision.
- Assess the nation’s coastal risks. To better understand the nation’s coastal risk management challenges and appropriately prioritize federal investments, a national assessment of coastal risks is needed. Such an assessment should be based on a standard method for determining future conditions along the coast and methods for quantifying economic, life-safety, social, and environmental costs and benefits associated with risk management scenarios. The assessment should include a national survey and inventory of present and future coastal conditions along the entire seaboard of the United States, including life, property, and infrastructure at risk; of coastal population and development trends; and of coastal environmental resources. Based on this national assessment and accompanying geospatial analysis, the federal government can weigh the benefits of proactive investments in coastal risk reduction against the consequences of no action and identify high priorities for federal funding. Proactive investments could include coastal risk mitigation projects and efforts to improve local land-use planning and decision making. Such an assessment could be part of a broader U.S. flood damage vulnerability assessment mandated in the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2007. The components of a national assessment of coastal risk are discussed further below.
- Incentivize cost-effective risk management strategies. A sustained effort by the federal government is needed to build state and local capability to prepare and implement more effective mitigation
strategies and policies. This would include technical assistance and promoting the availability of the best scientific data for decision making. To reduce overall cost, the federal government should increase incentives and remove disincentives for improving coastal risk management and land-use planning at the local level.
- Build a collaborative approach with clear delineation of responsibilities. Support for a national vision for coastal risk reduction requires federal leadership and a consistent, collaborative approach. Such an approach would identify and address contradictory agency programs, so that agencies can leverage other related federal and nonfederal efforts and reduce conflicts. The Sandy Rebuilding Task Force of 2013 was an important step in this direction, although the Task Force itself was short-lived. In addition, Executive Order 11988 (1977) ordered federal agencies to minimize actions that result in “adverse impacts associated with the occupancy and modification of floodplains and to avoid direct or indirect support of floodplain development wherever there is a practicable alternative.” If implemented comprehensively across agencies, this executive order could provide a baseline for a common and more unified approach.
To ensure efficient coastal investments, risk reduction and management responsibilities need to be clearly delineated among federal, state, and local agencies, ideally with legislated authorities that clearly lay out these shared and complementary responsibilities. Given the many agencies currently involved in coastal risk reduction, improved federal, state, and local collaboration in support of a national vision will likely necessitate a national-level body for coordinating coastal risk management with participation from all levels. The Federal Interagency Task Force for Floodplain Management, the Mitigation Framework Leadership Group,1 and the new Council for Climate Preparedness and Resilience (see Chapter 2) are possible models for this body, but any future effort should be cognizant of the deficiencies of prior approaches. Such a collaborative body could also involve professional associations, nongovernmental organizations, and the private sector to foster effective coastal risk reduction.
Developing a vision for coastal risk management is a national prerogative; it is not a responsibility of any single agency alone to create or implement this national vision. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Department of Housing and Urban
Development (HUD), U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), and other agencies all have a role to play, as do state and local governments and Congress.
National Coastal Risk Assessment
A national coastal risk assessment is central to a national vision for coastal risk management. Federal agencies should leverage ongoing activities in comprehensive risk assessments to develop a national coastal risk assessment. To maximize limited national resources, a proactive and comprehensive approach is needed to advance the understanding of risk at the community, regional, and national levels. This will require the analysis of risks to a wide range of physical, social, and natural systems.
Under the Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000, states and local jurisdictions are to develop comprehensive risk assessments used in preparing state and local hazard mitigation plans. These are required for eligibility for federal disaster recovery aid. An annual risk-reporting process could be started by compiling these assessments into a risk report by state and for the nation as a whole. States could do the same by local jurisdiction. Such reporting and national attention could improve the quality of risk assessments in state and local plans. This inventory should be based on a “systems approach” that includes consideration of regional ecosystems, watershed and shoreline processes, socioeconomic factors, and multicommunity vulnerability in addition to factors such as life safety, property, and infrastructure at risk.
Risks should be assessed for individual hazards and multiple hazards. Cumulative measures of probable projected losses should be conducted nationwide. The geographic patterns illustrate where the risks and the benefits of targeted interventions are the greatest. The USACE has taken steps toward this end through the North Atlantic Division Comprehensive Study, due in early 2015. In addition, the recently established USACE Risk Management Center will expand capacities of large-scale risk assessment by unifying methodologies across the agency and bringing state-of-the-art methods into play. The state of North Carolina is currently developing an Integrated Hazard Risk Management program, using geospatial analysis tools and models to compile data on “the area, variability, degree, and possibility of impact” of 15 natural hazards including coastal flooding and hurricane winds.2
There is a need to develop replicable and robust baseline metrics that are easily understood and applicable to risk management and planning processes. Once established, a set of baseline risk indicators would provide a useful way to monitor and examine change in risks due to a range of factors (e.g., coastal risk reduction projects, state and local land-use policies, and
changing hazard exposures induced by sea-level rise). Comparisons could also be made across states, regions, and communities to gauge progress in their efforts to reduce risk. The UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR, 2014) has proposed a Resilience Scorecard for making cities more resilient to disasters. A variant of this approach could provide a foundation for the development of national coastal risk metrics.
A critical objective of the coastal inventory and risk assessment is communicating risks to stakeholders involved in coastal decisions. To improve awareness and understanding of coastal risks, a consortium of federal agencies—including but not necessarily limited to the USACE, FEMA, NOAA, USGS, and HUD—in close collaboration with state and local governments, should prepare a periodic coastal risk report. This report would identify the most vulnerable coastal hot spots to forewarn officials and other stakeholders. Information included in the report should communicate levels of risk to the public, and document how risk is changing over time. The report could include scenarios of major disasters under present conditions and projected estimates of loss given changes in urban growth patterns, risk reduction projects, and hazard exposures induced by climate change. The report should address multiple hazards (e.g., wind, sea level, erosion, surge, wave impact, and inundation), linking FEMA floodmaps with NOAA, USGS, HUD, and state information.
Advancing Tools and Data for Coastal Risk Assessment
As discussed in Chapter 1, assessing coastal risk requires a probabilistic evaluation of the hazard (e.g., coastal flooding and wave attack) and a comprehensive evaluation of the consequences. In most cases, the historical record is not long enough to allow the definition of coastal flood hazards from purely observational data. Delineation of coastal flood hazards relies on models of tides, storm surge, waves, and coastal erosion to convert meteorological statistics into projected flood hazards. The methodology and tools for performing these analyses advanced rapidly following hurricane Katrina with substantial USACE leadership. However, significant uncertainty remains in both the storm statistics and the coastal response, particularly as issues associated with climate change are taken into consideration. The evaluation of consequences is also challenging. FEMA’s Hazus program provides a nationally applicable, standardized methodology with models for evaluating potential physical damage, economic loss, and social impacts from earthquakes, flooding, and hurricanes. At the state level, the Florida Public Hurricane Loss Model specializes in the estimation of residential loss in Florida from hurricanes. Full consequence analysis depends on data that are only recently becoming available in limited areas (e.g., first-floor elevation data for coastal buildings). Consequence estimation for
ecological systems remains in very early stages. Thus, there is considerable room for improved consequence analysis tools and data to support comprehensive risk assessment.
The value of a national coastal risk assessment will depend on its robustness and accuracy. Although a large number of tools exist to address one or more parts of the risk calculation, many are highly empirical and significant uncertainty remains in the results. For example, existing coastal hazard models are biased toward sandy shorelines, whereas models for other types of coast (e.g., vegetated coasts, rocky coasts, hard-structured coasts) are largely missing. Similarly, models that accurately describe the interconnections between storm surge and back-bay and river flooding are needed. Thus, it is important to continue to develop supporting data sets, methodologies, and models that integrate multiple hazards, where feasible. Given the history of the USACE in coastal issues, they are well positioned to continue to play a significant role in the development of these tools. This work should be pursued in an open manner that partners with and leverages the broader international research community and that enables transparency in the eventual results.
The uncertainty associated with existing data and modeling tools should not be viewed as a reason to delay action. Instead, decision makers should use the best available information and take advantage of learning opportunities and adaptive management (see Box 5-1) to improve future risk management. Federal agencies should also continue to improve data availability and modeling tools that can better inform local coastal risk management decisions and periodically revisit guidance for coastal risk reduction planning, considering information gained.
Once national goals and objectives for coastal risk reduction are established, increased efforts are needed to build risk management capacity at the state and local levels. Thus, an effective, comprehensive risk management framework will require much more extensive support for collaborative partnerships between the federal government and state, local, and private sectors that are charged with implementation. The federal government already provides technical assistance, data, and tools to assist state and local partners to develop local plans that meet coastal risk reduction goals and should continue to improve upon these efforts. It is important that the best available science and data, including emerging social science related to resilience, be available and communicated effectively.
Multiple federal agencies with differing responsibilities face the challenge of clearly presenting unified information, and the variety of stakeholders who are sources and recipients of risk information, adds complexity.
Adaptive Management and Coastal Risk Reduction
Adaptive management provides a structured framework premised on active learning that enables adjustments in risk management as new information is developed (Holling, 1978; Walters, 1986). Adaptive management is both a scientific and participatory process that involves identifying goals and agreeing upon critical uncertainties that need to be addressed to improve future decision making (Table 5-1). Once these uncertainties are identified and prioritized, strategies and actions can be planned and implemented based on conceptual (or mathematical) models describing key drivers of change. The system responses are monitored and evaluated, and this knowledge is then used to adapt and improve future management decisions as needed (Murray and Marmorek, 2004; NRC, 2004b, 2011a; Table 5-1). The order in which these steps are carried out is not always linear, but they provide a staged progression from goal setting to implementation, monitoring, and adjustment of actions, with continuous incorporation of scientific knowledge and dialogue with the public.
Adaptive management is well suited for coastal risk reduction efforts given the incomplete knowledge of how a coastal risk management program will reduce damages from future storms. The framework also lends itself to dealing with complex social-ecological dynamics, which present a challenge to coastal risk management. Although adaptive management is new to coastal risk management, it has been more widely used in other management and planning domains that are challenged by a high degree of uncertainty, such as ecosystem restoration and air pollutant emissions trading (see NRC 2004a; Hess et al., 2012). More recently, researchers have documented incorporation of adaptive management innovations into the next generation of urban plans (Quay, 2010; Godschalk and Anderson, 2012; Berke and Lyles, 2013) and local public health management systems (Hess et al., 2012) to increase local capacity to respond to emerging risks posed by climate change. A common theme with prior applications of the adaptive management process is that not all outcomes may be anticipated, but opportunities exist for learning from desirable and undesirable results.
However, an expanding spectrum of technologies provides means for integrating data sets and visualizing information. For example NOAA’s Digital Coast3 provides a range of useful data and tools and the training needed to use them, including coastal LIDAR elevation data, a sea-level-rise and flooding-impact viewer, and tutorials on climate adaptation.
State and federal agencies can also work together within the authorities of current programs to develop improved models for collaboration. One example of cooperation is the Systems Approach to Geomorphic Engineering (SAGE), a multiagency effort including the USACE, NOAA, FEMA,
TABLE 5-1 Key Elements of Adaptive Management with Application to a Coastal Setting
|Key Elements of Adaptive Management (AM)||Example application to coastal setting|
1. Stakeholder engagement and interagency collaboration
|Development of a stakeholder participation program to ensure engagement throughout the AM process. Stakeholders include representatives of public- and private-sector interests affected by AM decisions, and federal, state, and local agencies with relevant interests or expertise are involved.|
2. Establish or refine goals
|Planners would engage stakeholders to define the goals of the coastal risk reduction effort.|
3. Identify and prioritize decision-critical uncertainties
|Key unknowns are identified and prioritized based on the degree to which they could inform future decision making. Uncertainties might include:|
—Can targeted federal incentives significantly enhance coastal mitigation and reduce overall federal expense?
—Can targeted coastal land-use planning increase retreat rather than rebuilding after a major event?
4. Apply conceptual models and develop performance measures
|Identification of problems should be grounded in an understanding of major trends and drivers of coastal risk, and assessments of opportunities and threats to desirable future conditions. Specific performance measures are identified to assess system response to coastal risk reduction strategies and track goal achievement.|
5. Develop and implement robust and flexible management strategies.
|Coastal risk reduction strategies are evaluated and implemented, with an emphasis on robust strategies that are applicable across multiple futures and flexible approaches that can be adapted with new information.|
6. Monitor system response and assess data
|Information is collected and analyzed to compare the outcomes of the management actions relative to the original goals and assess the causes of unexpected results.|
7. Incorporate learning into future decisions.
|Based on the findings, coastal risk strategies are adapted to enhance effectiveness.|
SOURCES: NRC (2011a), RECOVER (2011).
the Nature Conservancy, the Virginia Institute for Marine Sciences, the University of New Orleans, and the University of Rhode Island. Through SAGE, engineers, physical and environmental scientists, educators, and public policy specialists from the federal government, states, academia, nongovernmental organizations, and the private sector work together to advance the knowledge and application solutions and practices to reduce coastal risk (Dalton, 2013).
Strengthening the Role of Consequence Reduction Strategies
Approaches to reduce the consequences of coastal storms are among the most cost-effective strategies to reduce coastal storm risks in many locations, but localities often find land-use planning strategies difficult to implement. On the one hand, local governments and individual property owners seem to place low priority on local actions to reduce coastal risk. This low priority to act is not necessarily due to a lack of awareness. Risk perception research consistently indicates that key decision makers (e.g., urban planners, building inspectors, public works engineers) are aware of natural hazards, but discount the risk and put a low priority on enabling their local governments to take action (Berke and Lyles, 2013). Local decision makers (unless recently hit by a storm event) are inclined to view natural hazards as a marginal problem that has lower priority compared with more pressing concerns such as jobs, roads, and education (Slovic, 1987). Further, the costs of risk-reducing actions are immediate but the benefits are uncertain and long term. Coastal risk reduction benefits are not visible, like a new school or highway, and may not even accrue during the term of elected officials.
On the other hand, federal agencies place limited attention on motivating state and local governments to implement appropriate land-use strategies in high-risk areas. Federal coastal risk reduction projects continue to be built that enable development and redevelopment in high-hazard areas. Additionally, growing federal post-disaster relief reduces the incentives for communities to take action to reduce future losses (see Chapter 2). Improving coastal risk management requires additional focused efforts to assist the general public and public officials to make choices about development and growth to motivate improved pre-disaster mitigation. The federal government has strong interest in reducing disaster outlays by promoting nonstructural mitigation efforts that reduce risk. Federal and state policy makers can make use of a variety of interventions to influence local behavior, including hazard information, technical assistance (e.g., expert review of local planning activities), incentives, direct investment in relocating severe repetitive-loss properties and growth-inducing public infrastructure, planning requirements, and land-use regulations.
One way to broaden responsibility for risk management is through proactive hazard mitigation planning. Rather than simply reacting to a disaster event, local planning enables at-risk communities to become more resilient—to anticipate, absorb, recover from, successfully adapt to future adverse events, and to build back to be safer, healthier, and more equitable (see NRC, 2012b). Such planning considers a wide range of policy instruments such as zoning, regulations, tools that incentivize sound development (e.g., tax increment financing, density bonuses, transfer of development
rights), and public capital investments to replace damaged or aging infrastructure (sewer and water). These are powerful tools available to state and local governments to guide development in the most appropriate locations (Table 5-2). Local hazard mitigation planning also provides additional benefits, including public education, consensus building, and improved coordination (see Box 5-2).
As discussed in Chapter 3, studies consistently indicate that where plans aimed at hazard mitigation have been adopted, they foster robust local hazard mitigation programs and a reduction in property damage in natural disasters (Burby and May, 1997; Nelson and French, 2002; May et al., 1996). But state and local hazard mitigation plans are often poorly crafted. Berke and Godschalk (2009) conducted a meta-analysis of these studies and concluded that few communities have prepared well for hazards. Most plans have a weak factual basis (i.e., risk assessments); unclear goals and objectives; weak policies; and few coordination, implementation, and monitoring mechanisms. The most comprehensive study of state and local mitigation plans produced under the federal Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000 completed to date examined 30 coastal state plans (Berke et al., 2012) and 175 local mitigation plans in six states (Lyles et al., 2013) derived similar conclusions concerning the low to moderate quality.
Findings also indicate that although plans are being successfully implemented, they give limited attention to policies oriented toward land use that would reduce the exposure to coastal hazards. Instead, efforts tend to focus on activities that are viewed as easier to achieve (e.g., emergency services and dunes or hard structures to reduce coastal hazards for existing development) and avoid activities that might generate political opposition or impact economic interests. However, when mitigation efforts are integrated into local comprehensive planning efforts, hazard-related losses significantly decline. Often, hazard mitigation plans are not utilized or incorporated into general community land-use planning and development management activities and thus are isolated from these well-established local institutions. Only 12.4 percent of all possible land-use actions are included in local plans, compared with 51 percent for emergency services, 34 percent for education and awareness, and 34 percent for structural risk reduction measures. Most local hazard mitigation plans overlook opportunities to encourage new development to locate outside of flood hazard areas or to assist home and business owners to relocate to safer sites (Berke et al., 2012; Lyles et al., 2013).
Despite the weaknesses of current mitigation planning, the Disaster Mitigation Act (Box 2-2) offers an existing intergovernmental framework that could serve as a foundation for improving risk management practices. Several steps could be taken to strengthen the plans and their associated land-use strategies. First, stronger incentives for local mitigation planning
TABLE 5-2 Land Use Approaches Useful for Mitigating Natural Hazard Risks
Permitted land use
|Provision regulating the types of land use (e.g., residential, commercial, industrial, open space) permitted in areas of community; may be tied to zoning code|
Density of land use
|Provision regulating the density of land use (e.g., units per acre); may be tied to zoning code|
|Provision controlling the subdivision of parcels into developable units and governing the design of new development (e.g., site stormwater management)|
|Provision related to using zoning overlays that restrict permitted land use or density of land use in hazardous areas; may be special hazard zones or sensitive open-space protection zones|
Setbacks or buffer zones
|Provision requiring setbacks or buffers around hazardous areas (e.g., riparian buffers and ocean setbacks)|
|Provision requiring clustering of development away from hazardous areas, such as through conservation subdivisions|
|Density Transfer Provisions|
|Provision for transferring development rights to control density; may be transfer of development rights or purchase of development rights|
|Financial Incentives and Penalties|
|Density bonuses such as ability to develop with greater density in return for dedication or donation of land in areas subject to hazards|
|Tax breaks offered to property owners and developers who use mitigation methods for new development|
|Provision requiring impact fees or special study fees on development in hazardous areas; may indicate fees required to cover costs of structural risk reduction measures|
|Land Use Analysis and Permitting Process|
|Hazards are one of the criteria used in analyzing and determining the suitability of land for development|
|Provision requiring addressing hazard mitigation in process of reviewing site proposals for development|
|Public Infrastructure Locations|
Site public facilities
|Provision siting new public facilities and replacing and relocating aging facilities out of hazardous areas to steer development to safer locations and to improve prospects to maintain critical services during and after hazard events|
|Post-Disaster Reconstruction Decisions|
|Provision imposing a moratorium on development for a set period of time after a hazard event|
Post-disaster land use change
|Provision related to changing land-use regulations following a hazard event; may include redefining allowable land uses after a hazard event|
|Provisions for relocating and structurally strengthening damaged infrastructure after a disaster.|
SOURCE: Reprinted, with permission, from Lyles et al. (2013). © 2013 by Taylor & Francis.
could motivate local jurisdictions to limit or avoid new development or relocate existing development in known hazard areas. Incentives for planning that support land-use actions could be increased in several ways:
- FEMA could increase incentives under the National Flood Insurance Program’s Community Rating System (CRS) for communities that adopt a local mitigation plan that accounts for land-use activities or that increase these activities in existing mitigation plans. As of 2013, only 43 percent of local governments that participate in the CRS produced a plan that received credit for flood insurance rate reduction (FEMA, 2013). Additionally, FEMA could give local governments credit under CRS for integrating land-use activities into local comprehensive land-use plans.
- The federal government could link cost sharing for coastal risk reduction to the application of other nonstructural strategies at a local or state level. Under this strategy, local governments (or states) that have progressive public and private property acquisition and relocation programs could pay a smaller share of the cost for federal coastal risk reduction projects. The share of costs could be further decreased if local government were to impose stronger zoning and subdivision restrictions that limit development densities and apply strict building codes in privately owned open spaces in hazardous areas.
Benefits of Local Planning for Risk Reduction
Godschalk et al. (1998) describe many benefits of local planning for hazard mitigation. Specifically, hazard mitigation planning:
- Provides a systematic approach to gathering facts about hazards, the adequacy of existing hazard mitigation policy tools adopted by the community, and a variety of other tools;
- Educates the community in the course of generating information necessary for decision making, and particularly those with a stake in the outcomes of plans;
- Demonstrates the connection between the public interest and governmental policies that is critical for legal defensibility;
- Fosters debate about the issues, and helps build consensus on a vision of resiliency, goals, and action;
- Coordinates the actions of various federal, state, and local government agencies that affect vulnerability to foster synergy, and avoid duplication of effort and conflict;
- Guides day-to-day decisions of public officials in the context of broader vision and goals;
- Provides a means of implementing policy by serving as a reference for elected and appointed officials to use in reaching decisions about regulations, allocating funds for capital investments, and granting permits for development; and
- Supports monitoring and evaluation of the performance of risk reduction practices based on measurable indicators to gauge goal achievement.
A second step to strengthen local mitigation planning is to build commitment for land-use strategies for reducing coastal risk. Commitment is the willingness of public officials and their constituencies to work energetically to address issues posed by coastal hazards before—not just after—a disaster occurs. Lack of commitment has been a major obstacle to proactive coastal planning and risk reduction, and previous efforts by the federal government to foster local attention to hazards have produced limited commitment. Instead, local officials are more likely to prepare plans to simply comply with the minimum requirements of the Disaster Mitigation Act to be eligible for federal disaster assistance funds rather than create strong plans that integrate mitigation into general community land-use planning and development management activities. State and federal government should do more to engage the public and build commitment from local government officials through public education tools, training, and incentives. Public involvement in the preparation, revision, and updating of mitigation plans and regulations (and other development management measures) can generate understanding and agreement on problems and ways of solving
them. Stakeholder engagement efforts give the public a sense of ownership of mitigation proposals and can also foster the formation of coalitions that can work to ensure that permit decisions for development projects are consistent with local mitigation plans (Brody et al., 2003; Godschalk et al., 2003).
The Role of the USACE in a National Vision
The USACE role in coastal risk management is constrained by authorizations that have traditionally emphasized single-project purposes and by the administration, Congress, and appropriations committees that each seek to maintain traditional privileges to authorize and fund specific projects. Nonetheless, as discussed in Chapters 2 and 4, changes are under way that, if implemented, could expand the USACE hurricane and storm damage reduction mission to be more comprehensive in scope. WRDA 2007 directed that the Principles and Guidelines (WRC, 1983), which have guided water resources project formulation in multiple agencies since 1983, be revised to include consideration of risk, public safety, and broad social and environmental benefits and include regional planning and nonstructural measures. The first step toward this revision—the Principles and Requirements for Federal Investments in Water Resources (CEQ, 2013)—was released in 2013. However, the detailed associated guidelines that will provide instructions for implementing these changes have not been released and are required prior to adoption of this new guidance. As discussed in Chapter 4, the USACE does not need to wait for these revisions to begin implementing a more holistic framework for coastal risk reduction.
Opportunities for Improving USACE Coastal Risk Reduction Strategies
Within the current USACE planning framework, there are several opportunities for improving the planning and implementation of coastal risk reduction strategies to provide greater benefits and increase local responsibility.
Quantify social and economic benefits. More rigorous accounting of social and environmental benefits and costs and life-safety benefits are feasible within the current USACE planning framework. Such analyses (see Chapter 4) would provide greater transparency about the broad costs and benefits of USACE projects and could be used to raise awareness of the value of increased community resilience, social benefits, and ecosystem services that some project alternatives provide.
Incentivize effective coastal planning. Since the reforms of WRDA 1986, local sponsors typically share in the costs of USACE coastal risk reduction
projects4 (see Box 2-3) and enter into local project cooperation agreements (PCAs) that incorporate these cost-sharing arrangements and other conditions. These conditions, however, do not take into consideration the adequacy of the local sponsor’s coastal, land-use, and hazard mitigation planning efforts. In fact, perversely, a coastal risk reduction project for a community that has increased development and exposure to risk will have a higher benefit-to-cost ratio than one in a community that has taken action to protect natural features or limit development so that there are fewer people and structures at risk. Under the current decision framework, a USACE risk reduction project for the risk-taking community would have a higher likelihood of funding, thus incentivizing risky development. However, if federal cost-sharing could be made contingent (through PCAs or some other mechanism) upon meeting specific standards for stand-alone coastal hazard mitigation plans and integration of mitigation into local land-use plans, federal investments and cost sharing in coastal risk reduction projects could serve as positive incentives for local communities to reduce exposure to risk.
Embrace long-term coastal planning. Given the long-term challenge of coastal risk reduction in the context of increasing sea-level rise, the typical 50-year USACE planning horizon appears too short to support sound coastal risk management. USACE planners already consider sea-level rise in all coastal projects (USACE, 2013e), but rates of sea-level rise are expected to increase significantly in the latter half of the 21st century (IPCC, 2013), which could significantly impact the effectiveness of coastal risk reduction projects. Unless long-term sea-level rise is considered in all aspects of project planning, coastal risk reduction projects might be selected that spur near-term development and increase long-term exposure to flooding, ultimately increasing overall coastal risks. A planning horizon of 100 years would allow decision makers to consider the adaptability and long-term costs and benefits (including social and environmental effects) of coastal risk reduction alternatives in the context of various sea-level rise projections.
Identify opportunities for learning through adaptive management. Uncertainties regarding the rates of sea-level rise and future changes in hurricane intensity necessitate ongoing improvements in coastal risk management. Therefore, the USACE should embrace adaptive management within its coastal risk reduction efforts so that future decision making can benefit from ongoing learning (see Box 5-1). Adaptive management requires increased effort to identify key uncertainties and monitor outcomes, and not
4One major exception to the cost-sharing responsibilities is when Congress adopts an emergency spending bill after a coastal storm to rebuild or construct new storm risk reduction measures at 100 percent federal expense.
all projects are appropriate for this additional level of investment. However, by analyzing uncertainties that currently limit coastal risk management decisions, adaptive management efforts can be targeted so the investments generate knowledge that improves future decision making. To make the most of advances in knowledge, the USACE should, where feasible, design current coastal risk reduction projects with additional flexibility so that the projects can be adapted in the future if needed.
Future Opportunities for Improving USACE Coastal Risk Reduction
Once the detailed Guidelines are completed by Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) to accompany the 2013 Principles and Requirements and are formally adopted as guidance for federal water resources planning, additional opportunities will emerge for applying the benefit-cost framework, constrained by acceptable risk, discussed in Chapter 4. Specifically, the Principles and Requirements, once implemented, would make it feasible for investments in coastal risk reduction to be informed by net benefits, including traditional risk reduction benefits along with life-safety, social, and environmental benefits, minus the costs of investment and other environmental or social costs. Difficult-to-measure benefits or costs could still be considered through constraints on what is judged to be acceptable.
A national vision for coastal risk management is needed if comprehensive coastal risk reduction is to be achieved. Effective coastal risk management for the United States requires a national perspective to achieve the most benefits from federal investments and regional solutions, rather than piecemeal, project-by-project approaches. Coastal risk management requires a long-term vision, recognition of the wide array of potential benefits, and coordination of efforts that are currently spread across many agencies that sometimes operate under conflicting mandates. Developing and implementing a national vision for coastal risk management is not the responsibility of any single agency alone, but will require federal leadership and extensive collaboration among federal, state, and local agencies.
The federal government, working closely with states, should establish national objectives and metrics of coastal risk reduction. Specific metrics for coastal risk management could be used by state and local governments to identify necessary actions and assess progress.
The federal government should work with states to develop a national coastal risk assessment. The geographic patterns of disaster risk represented by human fatalities, economic losses, and social impacts can illustrate where the risks are greatest and in need of targeted risk reduction interventions. This analysis should not be based merely on the recent history of
hazards but on a comprehensive assessment of risk, including multiple types of hazards under current and anticipated future conditions. The results of the risk assessment would serve as a powerful communication tool for the public and for local and national decision makers. The national interest in coastal risk reduction may vary from one community to another, but this would not preclude a community from investing in risk reduction efforts. The risk assessment would serve as a basis to assess the economic, life-safety, social, and environmental costs and benefits under various risk management scenarios, although additional model development is needed to fully support such an effort.
Stronger incentives are needed to improve pre-disaster risk management planning and mitigation efforts at the local level. Hazard mitigation and adaptation planning has significant potential to reduce coastal risk, but most state and local mitigation plans are currently poor and give limited attention to land-use strategies. In light of behavioral and cognitive factors associated with low-probability, high-consequence events, additional focused efforts and stronger incentives (or disincentives for inaction) are necessary to improve the quality of these plans and the breadth of nonstructural mitigation strategies considered. For example, the federal government could adjust USACE cost sharing for coastal risk reduction projects according to the extent and quality of hazard mitigation planning and the degree to which mitigation is incorporated into other local planning efforts (e.g., land use, transportation, critical infrastructure). The potential for strategic incentives to improve development decisions or facilitate retreat should be carefully examined in the context of long-term cost savings. Federal and state governments should also work to build commitment to coastal risk reduction among stakeholders and local officials.
The USACE should seize opportunities within its existing authorities to strengthen coastal risk reduction. Although the USACE is limited in its capacity to independently initiate national coastal risk reduction strategies under its current authorities, it can use its existing planning framework to rigorously account for social and environmental costs and benefits, thereby supporting a more holistic view of coastal risk management. Additionally, the USACE should increase incentives for sound coastal planning and continue to develop and improve modeling tools to support state and local planning efforts. The USACE should also look for opportunities to apply adaptive management to enhance learning and improve coastal risk reduction strategies. The USACE should reevaluate its typical 50-year planning horizon and consider longer-term planning in the context of projected increases in sea level to assess the adaptability and long-term costs and benefits (including social and environmental effects) associated with risk reduction alternatives.