Excerpts from the report’s “preface.”
Current population growth in southeastern Atlantic and Gulf coastal counties is nearly twice that of the national average. However, these same coasts are subject to impact by some of the most powerful storms on Earth, and the destructive potential of these events is increasing due to climate change and relative sea-level rise. High-consequence, low-frequency hazards pose a significant challenge for preemptive decision making because of a lack of personal experience that many have with these events and the probability that an event may not occur during a meaningful time horizon, which may range from a political election cycle to an individual’s lifetime.
Even though, nationally, we have dealt with significant environmental impact, loss of life, economic devastation, and social disruption from several coastal storms in the past decade, it remains difficult for most coastal residents to fully comprehend the risk of living in these areas. Therefore, it is challenging for governmental institutions to devote scarce resources to provide protection or forego revenue-generating potential by limiting development in valuable coastal areas to address risk. This behavior is exacerbated when, as a compassionate nation, we rally each time a disaster strikes and provide resources for post-disaster recovery that far exceed those we are willing to provide to manage risk.
Given the existing investment, strategic importance, and intrinsic desirability of living in coastal areas, it is unrealistic to believe that we will abandon most of these areas in the foreseeable future. However, living in these areas in a sustainable manner necessitates that we move away from the current disjointed and largely reactive approach to dealing with coastal natural hazards, and instead develop a more systematic, proactive approach to managing the risk associated with living in coastal areas.
This study was undertaken as part of a broad five-year effort to provide advice to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on a range of scientific, engineering, and water resources planning issues.
The current study addresses coastal risk reduction, specifically focusing on reducing flood risks from coastal storm surges along the East and Gulf Coasts. The conclusions formed are:
A national vision for coastal risk management is needed if comprehensive coastal risk reduction is to be achieved;
The federal government, working closely with states, should establish national objectives and metrics of coastal risk reduction;
The federal government should work with states to develop a national coastal risk assessment;
Stronger incentives are needed to improve pre-disaster risk management planning and mitigation efforts at the local level; and
The USACE should seize opportunities within its existing authorities to strengthen coastal risk reduction.