RAND Can Help Policymakers Strengthen Coastal Resilience | Web version

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March 13, 2014

Coastal Planning

RAND Can Help Policymakers Strengthen Coastal Resilience

Houses are partially submerged in flood waters after a Hurricane Isaac levee breach in Braithwaite, Louisiana August 31, 2012

Reuters/Sean Gardner

Nationwide, policymakers in coastal states are increasingly concerned about threats to both coastal landscapes and property. Continuing coastal development, rising sea levels, and possibly more intense and frequent tropical storms and hurricanes are projected to dramatically increase the risk of floods to coastal residents and property. At the same time, protective coastal landscapes are being destroyed or degraded.

There are no easy solutions to either of these threats, and policymakers face myriad considerations when developing comprehensive strategies to reduce flood risk and restore and maintain sensitive coastal landscapes. Any decisions about how to manage coastlines will affect outcomes across several areas of concern, including economic and energy development, environmental protection, and sustainability of the landscape.

A new report explains how tools developed by RAND for use in Louisiana can help policymakers in other coastal states weigh complex decisions on the many possible strategies to prevent coastal land loss, reduce flood risks, rebuild or restore coastal environments, and otherwise increase the resilience of developed coastlines.

Like many coastal regions, Louisiana suffers from unsustainable flood risk and significant land loss. To address this issue, RAND assisted the state's Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) in developing "Louisiana's Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast." This $50 billion plan outlines projects to be implemented over the next 50 years to reduce the state's coastal land loss and flood risk.

RAND researchers created a framework to help the CPRA explore the consequences and tradeoffs of potential coastal investment strategies. RAND developed a sophisticated decision-support tool that used information from complex computer models to show the likely outcomes of many different coastal loss and flood risk reduction approaches, taking into account numerous possible external factors over the next 50 years. Stakeholders and policymakers used this information to support discussions about how to best balance objectives that sometimes compete with one another. For example, some approaches for building land may reduce the habitat for saltwater aquatic species important to the local economy.

RAND's framework for evaluating future coastal risks and comparing different alternatives for reducing those risks can be used in other coastal regions. The study's authors note that policymakers using these tools should keep three things in mind:

  • Public participation is essential throughout the process to incorporate local knowledge and ensure credibility of the process;
  • The technical analysis should inform policymakers' deliberations, not provide a single answer to be "sold" to constituents; and
  • A successful, sustainable long-term strategy must be robust and adaptive and should include near-term investments that provide a strong foundation for future decisions that can be made in response to conditions that develop over time.

Coastal leaders are often charged with weighing competing strategies to best protect their region's vulnerable coastline. RAND's research offers a way to compare these options while accounting for a variety of future uncertainties.

Read the full report online: Strengthening Coastal Planning: How Coastal Regions Could Benefit from Louisiana's Planning and Analysis Framework

Please let me know if you have any questions or would like to speak to a RAND researcher to learn more about this research. I can be reached at Grace_Evans@rand.org or (703) 413-1100, extension 5299.


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