Reserve Reaps Green Infrastructure Benefits and Bolsters Recovery Investments

The Takeaway: The reserve’s natural areas protected homes and businesses from five-foot storm surge, and its disaster planning and hurricane-resistant construction helped to safeguard facilities and equipment.

When Hurricane Nate struck Mississippi, the pine forests and black needlerush marshes of NOAA’s Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve protected businesses, homes, roads, and railroads along Highway 90 from a five-foot storm surge. Natural areas such as this represent one of the best ways to protect communities from storm surge and billions of dollars in flood damage.

The reserve’s disaster planning and hurricane resistant construction also paid off. In the days before Nate, Grand Bay Reserve put into action their disaster response plan by evacuating personnel, students, and researchers; moving boats, vehicles, and sensitive NOAA equipment; making boats available to the state’s Department of Marine Patrol for on-water emergencies; and collecting wind and storm data that will enhance future recovery plans.

The reserve’s headquarters, labs, and dormitory—all built to withstand Hurricane Katrina-sized impacts—were undamaged by Nate, protecting previous investments, and no staff time was lost. Back in 2005, Hurricane Katrina had devastated the reserve's initial facilities. Incorporating lessons from that historic storm, and with strong support from U.S. Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi, the state used $7.2 million in U.S. Senate appropriations to build a more resilient facility.

The reserve’s commitment to “walking the talk” on green infrastructure and adaptation is respectful of the massive investments by both federal and state agencies to restore Mississippi’s coast after 2005’s Hurricane Katrina. While recovery is still ongoing, these investments have been critical in revitalizing some coastal downtowns and attracting more tourists to the casino industry, which in 2015 exceeded its pre-Katrina profits for the first time. Protecting these assets by rebuilding in a smart and sustainable manner keeps this investment viable.

Post-Katrina projects in Mississippi have included the painstaking repair of Route 90, additional green infrastructure through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ property buyouts, and the restoration and strengthening of harbors, marinas, beaches, barrier islands, bridges, home construction, city services, and other infrastructure. (2017)

More Information: Grand Bay Reserve

Partners: Mississippi Department of Marine Patrol

Fast Fact: Did you know that implementing hazard mitigation strategies, plus designing buildings to exceed select building code requirements, can prevent 600 deaths, one million nonfatal injuries, and 4,000 cases of post-traumatic stress disorder in the long term? For more statistics related to this story, check out Hazard Mitigation Value and Hurricane Costs.