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Sea Level Rise Pilot Project Conclusions to be Shared at Washington D.C. Event

Recognizing the threat of sea level rise and recurrent flooding to military installations and coastal communities, the White House announced the creation of pilot projects intended to join Navy, Department of Defense and other key federal agencies in developing a coordinated response.

Old Dominion University was chosen to lead the first-of-its-kind project in 2014 based on decades of research that established the University as an international leader in the study of the science of sea level rise and flooding resiliency. Additionally, ODU's location in Norfolk, Virginia - one of the nation's most vulnerable cities in regards to rising seas - and in the backyard of the largest naval base in the world made it a natural choice to convene hundreds of stakeholders from local, state and federal agencies, the military, business sector and affected communities to address the issue.

"As Hurricane Matthew just demonstrated, the water doesn't recognize the different branches of the military or government, and if we want to make our coasts resilient, we need to build on this model and work across government entities and sectors," said retired Navy Capt. Ray Toll, Old Dominion's director of coastal resilience research.

During an address delivered this year at Old Dominion, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry further affirmed the University's leading role while emphasizing that ensuring military resiliency will require unprecedented cooperation among every level of government.

"The pilot program housed right here at Old Dominion University is a perfect example of the type of coordinated effort that we need to deploy from sea to shining sea," Secretary Kerry said.

At 9:30 a.m. Oct. 19, Toll, the convener of the Hampton Roads Sea Level Rise Preparedness and Resilience Intergovernmental Planning Pilot Project, will be joined in Washington by Navy and White House leaders to unveil its conclusions.

Sample Pilot Project recommendations include:

  • Link infrastructure interdependencies (on and off base) by sharing maps, plans, etc. with neighboring jurisdictions and municipalities.
  • Create and maintain an integrated regional network to observe impacts to the economy, storm water, public health and infrastructure. This data could be used in real time but also archived to properly monitor longer term changes at a greater level of spatial and temporal fidelity.
  • Incentivize "whole of government" practices for each municipality through grants, requests for proposals and other federal and non-federal acquisition practices.
  • Integrate planners' and emergency managers' plans and procedures to address real time threats (such as Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Matthew) and long term trends like sea level rise.
  • Improve scientific research methods through data integration and model improvement.

The presentation and panel discussion of key findings and recommendations for resilience measures that can be replicated and applied throughout the country will be held at the World Resources Institute.

Afterward, news media will have the opportunity to further discuss the findings with Old Dominion researchers who worked on the project.

"ODU is proud to have served as the regional convener for this two-year planning effort," said Morris Foster, the University's vice president of research. "This is another example of ODU leading the nation in developing coastal resilience strategies, yet another part of President John R. Broderick's vision for the University as a national center of excellence for sea level rise research."

The Pilot sought to develop resilience and preparedness measures at the regional level, with emphasis on impacts to national security and the economy.

"What we will present are recommendations and next steps that can be building blocks to institutionalize the whole of government, whole of community process we have initiated if properly funded," Toll said. "This integrated regional approach can potentially lead to a national strategy this country desperately needs."

Toll is one of five speakers scheduled to appear at the Washington event. He will be joined by:

  • Retired Navy Vice Admiral Dennis V. McGinn, assistant secretary of the U.S. Navy for energy, installations and environment;
  • Sam Adams, director of the U.S. Climate Initiative, World Resources Institute;
  • Christina DeConcini, director of government affairs, World Resources Institute;
  • A White House representative.

The Hampton Roads Sea Level Rise Preparedness and Resilience Intergovernmental Planning Pilot Project, a voluntary, multi-sector collaboration, included hundreds of stakeholders in areas such as infrastructure, community engagement, science and economic impact. They met regularly to address ways communities can better collaborate and share information.

Toll initially led its steering committee and recruited working group chairs.

"We realized that the pilot marked the first time the various government entities communicated with each other, despite shared concerns about sea level rise and its impact on our region," he said. "We hope this pilot will provide a template for a comprehensive approach to the need for resilient coastlines that can be replicated and modified in coastal communities throughout the country. If we want to build resilient coastlines and respond to rising sea levels, we as a community and country are going to need to take a more comprehensive approach to be successful."

Old Dominion's selection to lead the intergovernmental project acknowledged the University's contributions to the issue as a clearinghouse on sea level rise preparedness, mitigation and adaptation since 2010, when President Broderick created the Climate Change and Sea Level Rise Initiative.

University researchers, now assembled in the ODU Resilience Collaborative, have led multidisciplinary studies about ocean current modeling, evacuation, community vulnerability, flood insurance and numerous other topics related to sea level rise and recurrent flooding. Successes highlighted this year include:

  • A proposal coordinated by Old Dominion, on behalf of the Commonwealth of Virginia and three Hampton Roads communities to help protect the region from the effects of recurrent flooding, resulted in a $120 million award to the state from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.
  • Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed legislation creating the Commonwealth Center for Recurrent Flooding Resiliency, a joint venture of Old Dominion, the College of William & Mary and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. The center is envisioned as a one-stop shop for scientific, socioeconomic, legal and policy analyses to build Virginia's flooding resiliency.

For more information on Sea Level Rise and Recurrent Flooding research at Old Dominion University, visit the ODU Resilience Collaborative website.

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