Making Informed Decisions in Coastal Resiliency

Natural Hazards, Climate Change, and Coastal Impacts

Coastal communities are threatened by natural hazards including coastal storms, water inundation, marine debris and tsunamis, in addition to population growth, overdevelopment, and loss of natural resources. Additionally, climate change exacerbates the effects of many of the natural hazards by impacting the sea level and increasing the intensity and frequency of extreme events.


Identifying these hazards and preparing for them allows managers of coastal communities to take proactive measures that not only can reduce loss of life, but also decrease economic loss. Natural hazard mitigation saves $6 on average for every $1 spent on federal mitigation grants, according to an analysis by the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS). NIBS reports: "In most coastal locations subject to hurricane surge, it can be cost-effective to build the first floor up to 10 feet above base flood elevation, in some places saving more than $12 per $1 of added cost.”

What is Coastal Resilience?

Coastal resilience is the ability to adapt to changing conditions, and withstand and rapidly recover from disruption due to emergencies (NOAA NOS[1]). Managers in coastal communities need to understand their existing vulnerabilities, assess the risk, and develop appropriate adaptation and mitigation plans for changing future conditions. The UN’s National Climate Assessment reported our globe is not adapting to climate change as quickly as we need to: “The extent and magnitude of climate change impacts are larger than estimated in previous assessments”, particularly highlighting “substantial damages” and “increasingly irreversible losses” to ecosystems and “shifts in seasonal timing”. The report also stated that globally, about a billion people are projected to be at risk from coastal-specific climate hazards in the mid-term.


[1] National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Ocean Service

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Data Source: NOAA

Informed Decisions

In coastal areas, informed and quick decisions are essential to both minimizing loss from hazards and also prepare for a variety of sea level rise scenarios and more severe events, with lives and infrastructures at stake.  Decision-makers in coastal communities may require unique solutions to face the hazards specific to their region.

RPS supports local business owners, governmental organizations, regional managers and planners and decision-makers to assess the risks and develop cost-effective solutions. To empower decision-makers, RPS leverages state-of-the-art scientific approaches from global to local scales, and assesses the risk, monitors the environmental condition, and evaluates adaptation and mitigation needs and priorities to build resilience, and develop adaptive solutions.

In addition to providing technical expertise and pragmatic and scientific solutions, RPS supports decision-makers by developing user-friendly tools and creating custom data portals. The goal is to synthesize and analyse data more quickly and easily and make public data more accessible. For example, RPS developed the Northeast Ocean Data Portal which supports federal, state and tribal agencies as they plan for coastal resilience. In collaboration with The Northeast Regional Ocean Council (NROC) and other strong partners, RPS maintains the Portal, ensuring that data is current and relevant to emerging priorities, developing constant improvements of the site, and ensuring that the website is consistently tested and functional for users

RPS also supports its environmental risk and private sector clients through the acquisition process to assess the climate resilience of properties. This service offering is complimenting the standard ESG process that helps inform investors through widely-used metrics of Environmental, Social and Governance factors. While the Environmental component of ESG typically considers factors such as carbon footprint and water and waste management, the recent climate risk assessment offering defines risk from natural hazards and a company’s potential exposure to climate change and its exacerbating forces. This service offering provides decision-makers with an understanding of existing and future environmental conditions, in addition to identifying requirements to recover, adapt, grow, and maintain resiliency.

RPS Coastal Assessments

RPS provides detailed assessments at the federal, regional, state, and local levels with environmental expertise. Coastal assessments include predictions of flooding and inundation as well as shoreline and habitat responses to changing conditions (e.g., sea levels, temperatures, and wave action). RPS has the capability of modeling coastal processes including inundation from sea level rise (SLR), storm surge, waves, shoreline change, hydro-morphological changes (pre/post SLR conditions or storms or with mitigation plans) and beach nourishment assessments. RPS also supports resilience planning with ecological/habitat modelling assessments.

In the Gulf Coast Storm Surge Project, RPS engineers analyzed the environmental constraints of the Gulf of Mexico region as a key part of the study. The result was a solution with an estimated total cost of approximately $11 billion and a benefit-to-cost ratio of 3.1 over a life span reaching to 2085, influencing 4,300 square miles and six counties. Once constructed, this vital protection for the Texas coast will include a structure only found in one other location worldwide—the Netherlands. This will prevent billions of dollars in damages and economic loss and ensure sustainability for one of the nation’s most important ecosystems. The work received the 2017 American Council of Engineering Companies Texas Engineering Excellence Awards Silver Medal and the 2017 American Public Works Association Texas Chapter Project of the Year Award in the Environmental Category under $2 million.

During the National Park Coastal Flood Modeling project, RPS partnered with the University of Rhode Island and the US National Park Service (NPS) on an initiative to assess the vulnerability of three coastal NPS properties that experienced severe flooding associated with the landfall of Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The approach focused on developing both high accuracy elevation data and new inundation models to evaluate storm surges under current and future SLR conditions. The project resulted in a robust data infrastructure and technical procedures that will be used in preparing for and responding to future storms at these properties. RPS developed a custom application using the Advanced CIRCulation (ADCIRC) computer model, which was resolved to capture detailed coastal features such as inlets, marshes, and nearshore bars, and was updated with the best available elevation data including post-Sandy LiDAR and ground survey points at key park infrastructure.

Additionally, RPS led a project for the Rhode Island Division of Statewide Planning to create business-specific Risk Reduction Guides to help small businesses become more resilient to extreme weather events. RPS conducted an Exposure Analysis to determine what areas of the state are most vulnerable to flooding events and power outages. To gauge the vulnerabilities and the lessons learned from past events, the Project Team performed over 100 vulnerability assessments with small business owners in four Pilot Areas identified through the Exposure Analysis. Input collected from these assessments and other outreach events was used to inform the creation of useful Risk Reduction Guides to benefit small businesses statewide.


With a variety of experts and experience, RPS creates custom solutions and models and analyses for locations with unique mitigation needs. Coastal communities can develop the necessary planning, with support from RPS, to coexist with the environment in a changing climate.


Because Water Matters

Learn more about how RPS helps to tackle Water Scarcity & Climate Change related impacts by visiting the link below.

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