Coastal Flooding: Navigating Public Health, Safety, and Economic Impacts and Solutions

The North Carolina Coastal Resources Law, Policy and Planning Center has partnered with the Virginia Coastal Policy Clinic at William & Mary Law School (VCPC) and the UNC School of Law Center for Law, Environment, Adaptation, and Resources (CLEAR) to study legal questions associated with government’s role in conducting adaptation planning and protecting communities from the impacts of extreme weather and coastal flooding.

Coastal communities and businesses continue to struggle with how to best manage the risks associated with coastal flooding and how to increase their resiliency. Both coastal region of North Carolina and the Tidewater region of Virginia are already vulnerable to storm surge, flooding, hurricanes and nor’easters. In addition, these areas are likely to experience more frequent and damaging disaster and hazard events that will have serious consequences for human health, public safety, critical infrastructure and coastal resources.

Demographic characteristics influence how well a community responds to hazards and disasters. Studies have shown that the poor, elderly and disabled are at greater risk when disasters such as flooding and hurricanes occur. Researchers and policymakers in disaster and hazard planning have, therefore, shown interest in developing methods to assess “social vulnerability,” focusing on demographic and socioeconomic factors that may either increase or attenuate the impacts of hazard events on local populations.

There also is interest in identifying “resilience,” which characterizes a population’s ability to respond to a hazard and return to pre-hazard conditions. However, incorporating social vulnerability indices into disaster and adaptation planning is complicated. The available indices can be used differently in various contexts and reach varying results depending on how they are applied.

There also are significant legal issues about whether and how social vulnerability indices should inform coastal flooding and sea-level rise policy and planning in North Carolina’s coastal region and Virginia’s Tidewater region. The Center, VCPC, and CLEAR have partnered to research these legal questions.