Stories From The Field

Enhancing Resilience to Coastal Hazards in Connecticut

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Issue

Extreme events are impacting the lives and economies of coastal communities across the nation. To prepare, communities seek tools linked to processes that help identify vulnerabilities and assets and help prioritize choices for reducing risks. After living through several coastal hazards events over the course of only a few years—tropical storm Irene and a nor’easter in 2011, and a tornado in 2010—the City of Bridgeport, Connecticut, looked to better prepare for disasters. This was before Hurricane Sandy struck the community, carrying an unprecedented 13-foot storm surge.

Process

Though Sandy caused flooding in vulnerable areas throughout the city, Bridgeport had a head start in identifying risks, vulnerabilities, and strengths. In the months before the storm, The Nature Conservancy and Clean Air‒Cool Planet, with local partners such as the Greater Bridgeport Regional Council and Regional Plan Association, held climate preparedness workshops using NOAA’s Roadmap for Adapting to Coastal Risk and The Nature Conservancy’s Coastal Resilience Decision Support Tool. The goal was to advance a conversation on risk, choices, and actions the community could take to reduce risks and increase resilience. The workshops integrated maps showing potential flooding from extreme events and sea level rise into a community-driven process and dialogue through which the community identified top hazards and priorities for action.

Impact

Bridgeport’s top three identified hazards—coastal and inland flooding, storm surge from tropical storms and hurricanes, and rising seas and groundwater levels—were affirmed by Sandy’s impact. Despite Sandy’s punch, the community had a head start in its path to resilience. Now, as residents rebuild, Bridgeport is working to update its Natural Hazard Mitigation Plan and enroll in the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Community Rating System, which offers private property owners reductions in National Flood Insurance Program premiums in return for community-wide hazard mitigation and risk reduction. Other priorities include adjusting building codes and land use policy, incorporating nature-based solutions such as marsh advancement zones and green infrastructure for managing storm water, and factoring climate change into redevelopment and infrastructure plans.

Bridgeport was also selected as a national case study for addressing climate impacts and reducing risk to infrastructure, with representatives presenting at a White House GreenGov 2012 conference in Washington, D.C.

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Connecticut shore, October 30, 2012. While Sandy's waves punish a seawall and home in the background, natural beach processes absorb wave energy leaving quieter water behind. Photo by Adam Whelchel, The Nature Conservancy.

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