“Our goal wasn’t to tell them what to do. It was to give them information and tools that they could use to be responsive to what’s happening.”
New Jersey Coastal Management Office
Many New Jersey coastal communities are facing challenges from inundation and other hazards related to climate change, but how prepared are they to respond? To help communities find out and improve their resilience to these natural hazards, state coastal resource managers recently piloted two new tools to help officials assess local vulnerabilities and evaluate existing planning strategies.
The tools developed by New Jersey’s Coastal Management Office are the Coastal Community Vulnerability Assessment Protocol, which uses detailed and current mapping to illustrate the potential scenarios for coastal inundation, or flooding, and “Getting to Resilience,” a questionnaire to help coastal communities figure out what they’re doing well and how they can improve.
Piloting the tools revealed that the three targeted communities were already taking positive steps to become resilient but still had opportunities for improvement.
“There was nothing regulatory about this,” says Dorina Frizzera, environmental scientist for the coastal management office. “It was an attempt to allow communities to engage and characterize themselves and what they’re doing.”
The Coastal Community Vulnerability Assessment Protocol is a geographic information system (GIS)-based analysis that uses mapped data and the application of models to help land-use planners, hazard mitigation planners, emergency managers, and other local decision makers with indentifying their communities’ vulnerabilities.
By applying the methods defined in the protocol to the pilot communities, Frizzera says areas were identified where built infrastructure, sensitive natural resources, and special needs populations overlapped with areas of potential inundation from sea level rise or storm surge.
The “Getting to Resilience” questionnaire was developed as a tool to help coastal communities build capacity for resilience to coastal hazards and sea level rise.
During the pilot project, the survey was used to highlight positive actions already underway and to identify opportunities to improve local resilience through planning, public outreach, mitigation, and response mechanisms.
“We developed these tools to address coastal hazards, knowing that climate change was occurring in the state but that few people were talking about it,” Frizzera says.
While the coastal program intended that the tools address wetland loss from sea level rise—one of the more significant impacts from climate change in Delaware Bay—the project focus shifted to looking at coastal hazards and climate change from a planning perspective, she says.
Part of the reason for the shift, Frizzera explains, was a lack of staffing. Without staff members to implement the project, the coastal program turned to the Coastal Management Fellowship program, which was established by the NOAA Coastal Services Center to provide on-the-job education and training opportunities for postgraduate students while providing project assistance to state coastal zone management programs.
“All the potential fellows were terrific,” Frizzera recalls, “except none of them had the wetlands background we were looking for.” Instead, they morphed the project to fit the fellow candidate of their choice, Leigh Wood, who had a planning background.
As a result, “we began focusing on the impacts to coastal communities behind the marsh,” Frizzera says.
Wood, who is now the Coastal Training Program coordinator at North Inlet-Winyah Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve in Georgetown, South Carolina, says to create New Jersey’s tools, she first did an extensive literature review and studied existing tools from around the country, including tools from the Coastal Services Center and Sea Grant offices.
Frizzera says they developed a mapping protocol that looked at geographic, environmental, and social vulnerability, and started collecting data, such as from an extensive tide gauge network, historical aerial mapping, tracking records of hurricanes and other major storms, more current lidar, soils information, and the U.S. Census Report. “We started piecing the information together and thinking about how we could apply the information to assist local governments in their planning and management.”
They also reached out to the New Jersey Sea Grant Consortium, Monmouth University Urban Coast Institute, and Stevens Institute of Technology for assistance in piloting the tools developed.
After piloting the methods, Wood compiled all the information into two documents that local governments could follow to not only identify physical vulnerability to inundation, but also to improve resilience. “A lot of the tools out there typically do one or the other, but not both,” she says.
“The biggest challenge,” Wood notes, “was packaging the information in a format that would be easily accessible and understandable to local government staff members and officials. I wanted anybody who picked it up to know what resources were needed to do the mapping, and identify vulnerable infrastructure or resources.”
To see if the tools would be effective at the local level, the research partners used funding from the National Sea Grant Coastal Communities Climate Adaptation Initiative to conduct demonstration projects in Little Silver, Oceanport, and Greenwich, New Jersey.
“This was conceived as a facilitated dialogue with all of the folks responsible for implementing local plans,” Frizzera says. “The goal was to help them characterize their existing plans and to identify opportunities for sharing ideas and information.”
“One of the nice things about the whole process,” says Jon Miller, a research associate professor at Stevens and a coastal processes specialist for New Jersey Sea Grant, “was the communication and sense of synergy” that was developed between the different decision makers, planning boards, engineers, and emergency officials involved in each project.
Frizzera adds, “Our goal wasn’t to tell them what to do. It was to give them information and tools that they could use to be responsive to what’s happening.”
The pilot communities were found to already be taking positive measures to become resilient, but they still had opportunities for improvement. For example, communities needed outreach tools to educate residents and visitors on emergency preparedness, evacuation procedures, and storm protection measures for homes and businesses.
“That these communities were willing to not only participate, but to move forward is huge,” Miller says. “Now it’ll be easier to convince other communities to take part in a similar exercise.”
For more information on the Coastal Community Vulnerability Assessment Protocol and the “Getting to Resilience” questionnaire, contact Dorina Frizzera at (609) 777-3251 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You may also contact Leigh Wood at (843) 904-9034 or Leigh.Wood@belle.baruch.sc.edu, or Jon Miller at (201) 216-8591 or email@example.com.