By Kathryn MacDonald, National Sea Grant Office
It has been a year since Sandy pounded the east coast, and the wounds are still healing. With over $62 billion in damages and 140 deaths, this storm shook the very foundation of the coastal communities that live and work in impacted areas.
Since the storm, the NOAA Sea Grant network has been actively engaged in the recovery effort, both long and short term. Many Sea Grant extension agents helped with initial damage assessments immediately after the storm. In New York, Sea Grant assisted federal, state and local officials in assessing the breach in Fire Island, a barrier island fronting a portion of mainland Long Island containing 13,000 homes collectively valued at 10 billion dollars. Sea Grant-funded researchers are studying the resilience benefits of natural coastline protection, like the work by New Jersey Sea Grant on the identification of best possible ways to nourish beaches and dunes. Sea Grant is helping local communities develop long term solutions for climate change adaptation. After the record storm surges during Sandy, Connecticut Sea Grant brought together University of Connecticut scientists, and state energy and environmental protection agencies to create a center that will leverage academic expertise in research and outreach to address the most pressing and specific needs of coastal communities in the state.
The National Sea Grant Office (NSGO) was able to connect Sea Grant programs experienced with inundation like Louisiana, Hawaii, Mississippi-Alabama, and Texas to the north-east programs experiencing severe hurricane damage for the first time. The NSGO was also able to deliver rapid-response research funds to New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut Sea Grant programs. To address more long-term issues, a collaborative partnership between FEMA Recovery Directorate and Sea Grant is underway to facilitate a connection between FEMA regional recovery coordinators and respective Sea Grant Extension agents and specialists.
Recently, to improve public understanding and awareness of natural hazards and associated risks, NOAA Sea Grant awarded a $1.8M grant to New Jersey Sea Grant, New York Sea Grant and Connecticut Sea Grant to support the Coastal Storm Awareness Program. This grant will fund social science research to enhance the Nation’s ability to respond to disasters by closely examining how people react to storm warnings. Sea Grant is helping to focus efforts on communicating these hazards to the public in practical and useful ways. Currently Sea Grant works with local communities to reach their citizens, both virtually and face-to-face, so that people both receive and understand threats. The results of this research and outreach will lead to a more aware public, able to make informed decisions with clear understanding of the risks and consequences of their choice.