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Santa Monica-based RAND Releases Report to Protect Coastal Communities

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By Lookout Staff

February 25, 2014 -- Should a coastal community undertake a marsh-building project now or in the future? And how will the project fare against different rates of rising sea levels over time?

Those are the kinds of questions answered by a new report issued last week by the Santa Monica-based RAND Corporation that highlights how policymakers can better develop strategies to help protect coastal communities from rising seas and storms like Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina.

“As coastal communities continue to grow and develop, it becomes increasingly important for policymakers to develop proactive, robust and evidence-based plans to manage increasing coastal risks, including flooding from storm surges,” said David Groves, lead author of the study and a policy researcher at RAND.

U.S. coastal communities have grown by nearly 50 percent since 1970, while rising sea levels, subsidence and human activities have degraded coastal lands, according to the report.

“These factors create vulnerability in communities when major storms hit,” RAND officials said.

“The report describes two key analytic tools that can be used to evaluate how coastal protection and restoration decisions made now will play out over time, even given an uncertain future,” officials said.

RAND researchers developed the analytic tools while supporting Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority’s groundbreaking “Louisiana’s Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast,” a $50 billion strategy for reducing flood risk and coastal land loss.

The tools helped decision-makers choose among investment strategies and estimate damage associated with storm surge and flooding, officials said.

“The model provided Louisiana with flexibility, allowing the state to evaluate the potential risk-reduction benefits from hundreds of proposed projects across different scenarios,” said Jordan Fischbach, coauthor of the report and a RAND policy researcher.

“The framework and models can be applied to other coastal regions,” Fischback said.

Said Groves, “The tools developed at RAND and applied in Louisiana can help government officials and others prepare for future threats, even when the future is so uncertain.”
The report’s authors note that public participation is essential throughout the process and that “technical analysis should inform deliberations by decision makers, not provide a single answer to be ‘sold’ to constituents.”

They also note that a “successful, sustainable long-term strategy must be robust and adaptive -- it 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.”

The study, “Strengthening Coastal Planning: How Coastal Regions Could Benefit from Louisiana’s Planning and Analysis Framework” can be found at Other authors of the study include Debra Knopman, David R. Johnson and Kate Giglio.

Research for the study was conducted in the Environment, Energy and Economic Development Program within the RAND Justice, Infrastructure and Environment division.

The division’s mission is to” improve the development, operation, use and protection of society’s essential physical assets and natural resources and to enhance the related social assets of safety and security of individuals in transit and in their workplaces and communities,” RAND officials said.

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