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The Wrack

The Wrack is the Wells Reserve blog, our collective logbook on the web.

Better Safe Than Sorry

Posted by Wells Reserve Contributor | July 13, 2015

The Wells Reserve recently hosted coastal communities from Kittery to Scarborough for a workshop titled Tracking Progress - Better Safe than Sorry. The workshop was a combination of presentations and group discussions for participants to discuss how their communities are working to improve their resilience to coastal hazards and extreme weather events in light of climate change. The workshop gave participants the opportunity to identify shared goals and track progress towards these goals.

Cameron Wake, of University of New Hampshire, gave the first presentation on Coastal Hazards and Flooding: what can southern Maine communities expect in the future?, giving the audience background information regarding the science of sea level rise and warming water. This talk opened up an opportunity for a discussion to begin about the practicalities of preparing for flexibilities in sea level rise predictions and what those different predictions look like on the ground.

Susi Moser, adaptation, science-policy interaction, decision support, and communication in the area of climate change specialist from Susanne Moser Research and Consulting, and James Arnott, climate change and adaptation and resiliency planning focused PhD student from University of Michigan, gave the next presentation. Both of their backgrounds allowed them to present aspects of tracking progress and measuring adaptation success, framework, indicators, and metrics. A very important takeaway message from their presentation, titled Tracking Progress and Measuring Adaptation Success, was how success varies across regions, scale, and time as well as personal definitions of what success is and how that definition forms. A big part of trying to define success is also dealing with tradeoffs and who has a stronger voice in the situation. Not only is success difficult to discuss and define, so is how you get there, meaning what are good indicators of adaptation and what does it mean to adapt and why does it matter that we are asking these questions? As Susi discussed in her part of the presentation, reasons to think about success include, but are not limited to, communication and public engagement opportunities, more deliberate planning and decision-making as well as the justification for decisions and their associated costs, and accountability and support for learning and adaptive management.

One of the great benefits to gathering coastal communities together to discuss their resilience plans is that ideas can be shared across similar communities. An example of this is one community creating a signed document as a result of residents not responding to the two feet above base level elevation requirement. A homeowner is shown two things by the town planner. The first is current or proposed flood maps to give them an idea of where the future is headed and the second is a FEMA cost sheet for flood insurance rates and the reductions that occur because of elevating the building. This allows the homeowner to make a conscious decision about whether or not to abide by the requirement. From there, the signed page becomes part of the internal understanding, and while it does not have any regulatory implications, it allows the town planners and homeowners to look at the best available data and make choices based on their understanding.

This type of workshop, sharing successes and failures between towns, allows for planners, engineers, and emergency management officials to engage in conversations that they may not have the opportunity for in their everyday jobs. Additionally, it opens the door for ongoing conversations to be had if a town finds success in any of their adaptation strategies currently underway.

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