ASBPA: A New Vision for Coastal Protection?

A new federal study is attempting to reframe the national discussion about coastal risk and relief, and it behooves local communities and coastal advocates to be part of this conversation from the beginning.

The study, issued by the National Research Council in late July, calls for “a national vision for managing risks from coastal storms… that includes a long-term view, regional solutions, and recognition of the full array of economic, social, environmental and life-safety benefits.” That is as all-encompassing as it sounds, and the authors spend a considerable amount of effort exploring the options available to “move a nation that is primarily reactive to coastal disasters to one that invests wise in coastal risk reduction and builds resilience among coastal communities.”

The study lays out the landscape for coastal risk management and assesses how various risk reduction strategies perform in reality, offering useful insights among the analysis that will be familiar to those already toiling in the coastal protection field.

The heavy lifting comes in deciding how to manage – and invest in – coastal risk reduction, where the authors ultimately opt to balance between a risk-standard approach (seeking a uniform risk reduction across the coastal board) and a benefit-cost approach (investing in risk reduction where the benefits exceed the costs).

It is the conclusions which the study draws that should make coastal advocates pay attention, for there is something for everyone in its outline:

– “A national vision for coastal risk management is needed in order to achieve comprehensive coastal risk reduction.” Through a combination of federal investment and regional solutions, the study calls for a long-term and integrated strategy that would cross jurisdictions and agency mandates;

– “The federal government, working closely with states, should establish national objectives and metrics of coastal risk reduction.” A uniform risk metric is the goal here, which is a concurrent part to a national coastal risk vision;

– “The federal government should work with states to develop a national coastal risk assessment.” This presumes federal leadership without precluding local action, and again pushes toward a uniform assessment as the basis for reducing risk;

– “Stronger incentives are needed to improve pre-disaster risk management planning and mitigation efforts at the local level.” This is where the reactive is pushed aside for the resilient, allowing an array of strategies to invest in risk reduction rather than in disaster recovery. It is also where communities could customize risk reduction in ways that suit the local history and habits – a degree of latitude that most who work with the federal system will find hard to imagine;

– “The Corps should seize opportunities within its existing authorities to strengthen coastal risk reduction.” Here, the authors work to push the Corps into a longer-term view of coastal protection leavened with innovation and adaption.

Source:, August 13, 2014

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