Policies for Reducing Coastal Risk on the East and Gulf Coasts

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Deborah Glickson and Stephanie Johnson, National Academy of Sciences, Washington, DC, United States
Hurricane- and coastal storm-related economic losses have increased substantially over the past century, largely due to expanding population and development in susceptible coastal areas. Concurrent with this growth, the federal government has assumed an increasing proportion of the financial responsibility associated with U.S. coastal storms, which may discourage state and local governments from taking appropriate actions to reduce risk and enhance resilience.

Strategies to manage coastal storm risks fall into two categories: reducing the probability of flooding or wave impact (such as seawalls, storm surge barriers, beach nourishment, dune building, restoration/expansion of oyster reefs, salt marshes, and mangroves) and reducing the number or vulnerability of people or structures (such as relocation, land-use planning, and elevating or floodproofing buildings). Over the past century, most coastal risk management programs have emphasized coastal armoring, while doing little to decrease development in harm’s way.

This National Research Council report calls for the development of a national vision for managing coastal risks that includes a long-term view, regional solutions, and recognition of all benefits. A national coastal risk assessment is needed to identify high priority areas. Benefit-cost analysis provides a reasonable framework to evaluate national investments in coastal risk reduction, if constrained by other important environmental, social, and life-safety factors. Extensive collaboration and additional policy changes will be necessary to move from a nation that is primarily reactive to coastal disasters to one that invests wisely in coastal risk reduction and builds resilience among coastal communities.