Community Resilience: One Approach in New Jersey

By: Jennifer Whytlaw, Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, Rutgers University

Hurricane Irene moved through New Jersey in late August 2011 as a Category 1 storm.  Over two days, up to 10 inches of rainfall led to record-breaking floods on many streams throughout the Garden State (USGS New Jersey Water Science Center), causing major flooding and extensive damage to both private and public property.  Just over one year later, Superstorm Sandy, an extra-tropical cyclone, made landfall in New Jersey in late October 2012.

The combination of Irene and Sandy over such a short period of time was a game changer for many New Jersey communities.  Prior to the two storms, the concept of “sustainability” to many New Jersey municipalities meant decisions on land use planning with regard to open space, redevelopment of existing brownfield sites or the highly contentious affordable housing debate.  Few at the local level were concerned about the impact of climate change and what sea level rise in 2050 or 2100 meant for the coastal communities in the State.  Historic inland flooding throughout the State had prompted planners and water resource managers working in riparian areas to pay focused attention on measures that could be implemented to mitigate high impact flooding from regularly occurring storm events.  Yet, even in these cases, projections of future conditions were rarely involved in those planning efforts and were often dismissed as being hard to scientifically calculate.  Following Irene and Sandy, the concept of “resilience” became a pressing and operative priority for many New Jersey municipalities.  Hurricane Irene and Superstorm Sandy provided a mechanism to begin the tough conversations with communities in New Jersey about how to understand their risks to future storm events.

A highly collaborative effort involving several programs with key skills and expertise, came together with the mission of integrating the latest science and tools to help communities become better prepared and more resilient.  Working in partnership with more than 40 diverse public, private and nonprofit organizations from throughout the State through a forum called the New Jersey Climate Adaptation Alliance (njadapt.rutgers.edu), the Rutgers team sought to deliver science, technical information, tools and support to communities throughout New Jersey to help integrate resilience into local planning and decision-making.  In partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s Coastal Management Program and other non-governmental organizations, the Rutgers team has focused efforts in three general categories:

  1. Development and hands-on deployment of science-based tools that are practical and are designed to support planning and decision-making by local officials and community stakeholders.
  2. Enhancement and expansion of existing tools to provide communities with support to address multiple hazards.
  3. Development of communication products that can help municipalities engage their residents and community members in efforts to enhance community resilience.

Development and hands-on deployment of decision-support tools for local officials and community stakeholders. 

In 2011, funded through NOAA, Sustainable Jersey, and an EPA Climate Ready Estuaries grant, a team at the Jacques Cousteau Estuarine Research Reserve (JCNERR), which is housed at Rutgers University, enhanced the Getting to Resilience (GTR), an online self-assessment tool that helps communities identify their vulnerabilities to coastal flooding and storms and increase their level of preparedness.  Initially developed by the state’s Coastal Management Program, GTR helps a community assess their current and future risks and vulnerabilities, develop a plan of needed steps based on a community’s individual priorities, and identify and develop implementation strategies that are designed to reduce overall community risks.

A large component of working through the GTR process is the need for a community to first understand their current and possible future risks.  Through the development of web-based mapping applications, the team at Rutgers has developed the necessary resources to allow communities access to data about people, places and assets through geospatial technology.  The applications allow communities to visualize and inventory data needed for GTR as well as create customized maps that can be used for a variety of activities including public meetings.

Enhancement and expansion of existing tools to incorporate additional climate hazards

With post-Sandy funding, the collaborative team was able to leverage existing technologies developed by NOAA to develop tools focusing on coastal hazards.  These hazards included data on projected sea level rise, surge, as well as data on extreme weather events and nuisance flooding.  The NJ Floodmapper and Coastal Hazard Profiler were the customized applications developed to respond to communities needs in response to flood risks. The goal of both applications is to make climate projection data for New Jersey more accessible, understandable, and useable to a variety of end users.

Often the question comes up about what makes the tools Rutgers developed different from all the other tools that are available.  The suite of tools developed – Getting to Resilience, NJ Floodmapper, and the Coastal Hazard Profiler fit together as a package to help communities identify current and future risks and vulnerabilities, to work within their community infrastructure to develop a plan of needed steps based on a community’s individual priorities and begin the process of identifying implementation strategies.

Development of communication products to support community engagement as well as outreach to the general public and decision-makers.

The development of tools can take communities so far, but working with communities step-by-step through the process has proved to be more effective.  Engaging with a community’s leadership has helped to distinguish important priorities that may be specific to one community over another, but has also helped identify common concerns across jurisdictions.  The creation of a public facing website, NJADAPT.org, has also allowed information to be disseminated to a broader audience to address issues such as impacts of climate change in New Jersey, impacts to coastal communities and resource needs, proximity of senior citizens and socially vulnerable populations to coastal flooding, impacts to the local economies, as well as a depiction of historic shoreline delineation along the Atlantic coast.

 

Jennifer Whytlaw, GISP is a Geographic Information System (GIS) manager at The Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University. Currently, Ms. Whytlaw leads various data and mapping projects involving climate and environmental hazards, health, and infrastructure assets. For more information please contact: jrovito@ejb.rutgers.edu

References

Coastal Hazard Profiler. Available from: < http://sugar.rutgers.edu/latest/#/configure>. [1 September 2015].

Getting to Resilience: A Community Planning Evaluation Tool 2015. Available from: < http://www.prepareyourcommunitynj.org/>. [1 September 2015].

NJADAPT. Available from: < http://www.njadapt.org/>. [1 September 2015].

New Jersey Climate Adaptation Alliance Website 2015. Available from: < http://njadapt.rutgers.edu/>. [1 September 2015].

NJ Flood Mapper: An interactive mapping website to visualize coastal flooding hazards and sea level rise. Available from: < http://slrviewer.rutgers.edu/>. [1 September 2015].

USGS New Jersey Water Science Center. Available from: <http://nj.usgs.gov/hazards/flood/flood1108/>. [4 September 2015].