Improving resilience and hazard planning for coastal communities


Erosion. floods. Sea level rises. tsunamis. All of these natural hazards threaten Washington’s Pacific coast – with potentially dire consequences for coastal tribes and communities.

Over the years there have been a number of efforts and investments focused on responding to these coastal hazards. However, Pacific Coast communities often lack the resources to undertake comprehensive planning efforts to help them prepare for the dangers they face and plan for a quick recovery from a major incident.

Shore, cliff and beach erosion is a recurring problem along the coast.

Ecology and Washington Sea Grant recently conducted a partnership effort to complete the Resilience Action Demonstration Project to test different approaches to improve this type of planning. The two-year demonstration project involved the creation of a multi-organizational team composed of staff from government agencies and university extension programs to respond to urgent resilience needs identified by coastal communities.

“Coastal communities and tribes are often geographically isolated and don’t have as many resources for resilience planning as larger cities – yet they are even more vulnerable to natural hazards, particularly in the face of climate change,” said Henry Bell, ecology-coastal planner. “Local communities are so few and far between that they are often the first to respond to emerging threats. A coordinated agency support team has the potential to help communities bridge these capacity gaps.”

Building on the 2017 assessment

The project responded directly to coast needs and priorities identified in the 2017 Washington Coast Resilience Assessment conducted by the William D. Ruckelshaus Center. With additional funding from NOAA’s Office for Coastal Management, Ecology and Sea Grant were able to provide hands-on assistance in evaluating 175 potential projects and helping secure $845,000 in federal funding for several Washington resilience efforts.

Several projects are running

The Ecology-Sea Grant team worked with local, state, federal, and nonprofit partners to develop project proposals and find funding for several resilience projects about to begin, including:

Requires: Coastal Resilience Initiative

During the winter months, extreme high tides regularly combine with storm surges to damage infrastructure and create safety hazards along Washington’s Pacific Coast.

The success of this pilot demonstrates the long-term need for a coastal resilience initiative.

“A cross-organizational resilience support team would work in partnership with Pacific Coast employees and community members to build their social, economic, and environmental resilience by providing strategic coordination and driving projects that address both short-term priorities and long-term environmental changes,” said Jackson Blalock, Sea Grant Community Engagement Specialist.

While the pilot project focused on Washington’s seafront, it has national implications: Across the country, many small communities, even where funding opportunities exist, do not have the capacity to secure funding for local projects that would improve their resilience to natural hazards.

This is an unprecedented time for government investment in coastal resilience,” said Bobbak Talebi, Senior Coastal Ecology Planner. “We have an important opportunity to help communities and tribes leverage federal support to complement the significant investments they are already making.”

Talebi added that the pilot “demonstrates that by working with these communities, we can strengthen partnerships and provide additional capacity to develop project scopes, connect communities with funding programs, and bring projects from the shelf to the shore.”

Recommendations for the final report

This month, Ecology and Sea Grant published their joint recommendations from the demonstration project in a final report. The report recommends:

  • Building a permanent cross-organizational resilience team
  • Support for local resilience planning.
  • Creation of local staff positions focused on building resilience to hazards
  • Improving local access to finance

The Ecology-Sea Grant team is currently working with the Washington Coastal Marine Advisory Council and other state agencies and university extension programs to advance the report’s recommendations.

“The resilience of Washington’s coastal communities — the safety and survival of our residents — depends on how well we are prepared for the increasing variety of coastal threats we face,” said Randall Callendar, director of the Washington Sea Grant. “The demonstration project is a significant step forward in establishing that readiness.”

about us

Ecology works to improve Washington’s resilience to natural hazards on state coasts and coasts by planning activities aimed at avoiding or minimizing the impacts that hazards can have on communities and natural resources. Ecology works with communities, local and tribal governments, and state and federal agencies to use information and resources to take action.

Washington Sea Grant helps people and marine life thrive by providing research, technical expertise, and educational activities that support the responsible use and conservation of marine and coastal ecosystems.

For more information contact:

Bobbak Talebi, Coastal Ecology Planner, 360-819-3014 Henry Bell, Coastal Ecology Planner, 360-628-2750


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