Digital Coast Aids Post-Maria Resilience Three Ways

The Takeaway: Puerto Rico is building back stronger with a Digital Coast tool and trainings in flood mapping and green infrastructure.

Hurricane Maria’s combined storm surge and tide levels crested six to nine feet in some places, and Puerto Rico is still striving to recover from the devastation. Local officials needed ways to reduce storm-driven runoff. They also needed flood maps that comply with the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s latest requirements. NOAA’s Digital Coast staffers responded with a specially updated Coastal Flood Exposure Mapper and trainings in flood mapping and green infrastructure.

Building off a beach in Puerto Rico showing significant structural damage as a likely result of storms. Damage to nearby trees is also visible.
In Puerto Rico's community of Rincón, a high-rise building shows the damaging after effects of Hurricane Maria. Photo credit: Puerto Rico Coastal Zone Management Program, Department of Natural and Environmental Resources.

Helping planners "see" threats

Digital Coast’s customized map tool is equipped with Post-Maria recovery data and fine-scale features displaying places and natural resources at higher flood risk. Two Coastal Inundation Mapping training sessions—in San Juan and Mayaguez—helped trainees “see” storm surge, high tide flooding, sea level rise, and tsunami scenarios. With these aids, Puerto Rico’s planners are working with local communities on the territory’s recovery plan.

Digital Coast Academy’s green infrastructure training in San Juan has sparked additional trainings in Rincón, Ponce, Rio Grande, and Caguas. The trainees will be using their new skills to kick-start local projects:

  • Federal Emergency Management Agency staffers are planning workshops and establishing watershed groups to move green infrastructure forward.
  • A college professor aims to use green infrastructure content in upcoming courses, and another participant is working with the Department of Education to foster school-age awareness of green infrastructure.
  • A podcast in the planning stage will raise awareness of climate change and green infrastructure.

Proof of concept

Green infrastructure has a huge effect on the bottom line in terms of flood-related damages avoided, according to a 2018 report, The Global Value of Mangroves for Risk Reduction. Mangroves in U.S. states and territories help protect coral reefs and reduce annual flood exposure costs to the tune of $13 Billion annually.

Trainees represented academia, Sea Grant, and municipal, state, and federal agencies. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources, and Puerto Rico Sea Grant helped bring Digital Coast resources to the territory. (2019)

Partners: Digital Coast, Puerto Rico Coastal Management Program, Puerto Rico Sea Grant