Coastal Adaptation Protocols

I’ve been looking at existing design systems, protocols, methodologies, etc. for coastal flooding /sea-level rise adaptation. Here’s one example of a ‘scenario planning’ flowchart, from “Climate Adaptation and Flood Risk in Coastal Cities” that describes the general process we do see happening, across countries:

The US Army Corps of Engineers approach informs an extraordinary amount of U.S. infrastructure development. As a military agency, it is a very, uh, protocol rich environment. Here’s the basic coastal design protocol (part 1 of 3), which identifies 11 potential design options, including “do nothing” and “non-structural” as choices:

Here’s the protocol for assessing whether sea level rise needs to be accounted for within USACE planning process:

These examples are pretty in line with most of the existing adaptation protocols that seem to exist: look at data on flooding and sea level rise, assess economic and technical risks of expected flooding (across a range of scenarios), and then select from a menu of engineering/urban design strategies to reduce flooding risk. Flooding risk is pretty consistently defined in the context of insurance and law — probability of flooding x consequences of/damage from such flooding to existing infrastructure.

There’s even a “Risk Assessment” protocol outlined by NIST. This basic diagram is interesting, because it centers the importance of framing the risk:

The first component of risk management addresses how organizations frame risk or establish a risk context—that is, describing the environment in which risk-based decisions are made. The purpose of the risk framing component is to produce a risk management strategy that addresses how organizations intend to assess risk, respond to risk, and monitor risk—making explicit and transparent the risk perceptions that organizations routinely use in making both investment and operational decisions. The risk management strategy establishes a foundation for managing risk and delineates the boundaries for risk-based decisions within organizations.

We think that the protocols that exist for coastal adaptation can be expanded/improved to allow for experimentation, innovation, and iteration by introducing scaffolding elements aimed at (re)framing flooding / expanding the boundaries for decisionmaking. We are finding evidence in our fieldwork, and in our reading on public sector community engagement strategies, that such an approach can and does enable stakeholders to imagine and pursue more innovation adaptations that embrace, accept, or integrate an increased presence of water.

I’ve been referring to some of these adaptations — outside traditional engineering-heavy green and grey infrastructure projects — as “pink” infrastrucuture — human, cultural, and behavioral adaptations that happen in a context of living with water. I’m excited for us to document these adaptation strategies and interventions that occur before any construction begins.