Cover: Strengthening Coastal Planning

Strengthening Coastal Planning

How Coastal Regions Could Benefit from Louisiana's Planning and Analysis Framework

Published Feb 19, 2014

by David G. Groves, Jordan R. Fischbach, Debra Knopman, David R. Johnson, Kate Giglio


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Research Questions

  1. How should policymakers in coastal regions develop long-term coastal sustainability strategies comprised of different projects to reduce flood risks, rebuild or restore coastal environments, and increase the resilience of developed coastlines?
  2. How can such decisions be made in a manner that is scientifically rigorous, transparent, participatory, and reflective of the significant uncertainty about the future?

Like many coastal regions, Louisiana faces significant risks from storms and resulting storm surge and flooding, as well as coastal land loss. Furthermore, these risks are likely to be exacerbated by continued population growth, economic development, and climate change. In recent years the need to address these challenges has grown more compelling as a consequence of the experiences with hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Isaac, and Sandy.

Louisiana's Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) took a major step forward to confront these challenges in its groundbreaking 2012 report, Louisiana's Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast, a 50-year, $50 billion coast-wide strategy for reducing flood risk and coastal land loss. RAND researchers supported CPRA's efforts by developing (1) a structured and analytical approach to support CPRA's decisionmaking, called the Planning Tool, and (2) a computer simulation model of coastal conditions to estimate property and other damage associated with storm surge and flooding, called the Coastal Louisiana Risk Assessment (CLARA) model.

This report highlights RAND's contributions to CPRA's Master Plan, with the goal of helping policymakers in other coastal regions understand the value of a solid technical foundation to support decisionmaking on strategies to reduce flood risks, rebuild or restore coastal environments, and increase the resilience of developed coastal regions. It brings together and makes accessible previously published RAND technical descriptions of both the Planning Tool and the CLARA model.

Key Findings

A number of challenges impede planning for long-term coastal resilience

  • There is a diverse range and large number of possible approaches to reducing damage from flooding and storm surge.
  • Future coastal conditions and threats are highly uncertain.
  • Intra-regional differences can lead to debates about goals and priorities, jurisdiction, and resource allocation. Decisionmakers must understand the trade-offs to balance among objectives.
  • Since storms and their resultant flooding do not stop at political boundaries, there is a need to coordinate across local jurisdictions.

RAND's Planning Tool facilitated deliberations among Louisiana policymakers

  • Projects were compared on a level playing field using consistent methodology, data, and sets of models.
  • The Planning Tool was used to estimate how much land building and how much risk reduction plans of various sizes would provide, allowing for determination of how to allocate funds across project types.
  • To strike a balance between near-term and long-term objectives, the Planning Tool was used to calculate and evaluate trade-offs between alternative packages of near-term and long-term projects.
  • The Planning Tool also supported decisions on how to balance different planning objectives, such as risk reduction, land building, and protection of ecosystems and wildlife habitats.
  • The Planning Tool provided a way to evaluate alternatives under a range of different assumptions about future conditions, which will affect the likely outcomes of various projects.


  • In successfully developing its Master Plan, Louisiana followed three principles that are applicable to decisionmaking in other regions: (1) public participation is essential throughout the planning process, (2) technical analysis informs deliberations and value judgments by decisionmakers, and (3) to be sustainable, a long-term strategy must be robust and adaptive.

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This volume was prepared as part of the RAND-Initiated Research program and was funded by the generosity of RAND's donors and by fees earned on client-funded research.

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