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Through Survey, Community Forums, ODU Researchers Seek Sea Level Rise Preparedness Priorities from Community

By Brendan O'Hallarn

At a Virginia Beach community center where residents gathered, Old Dominion University professor Wie Yusuf brandished a small object that looks like a pen.

"This will help you tell us what your priorities are," said Yusuf, associate professor in the Strome College of Business' School of Public Service.

The meeting was one of several hosted by a multidisciplinary team of Old Dominion researchers. And the "pen" was a light pen used by participants to point to specific parts of a map of Norfolk and Virginia Beach.

The light pen is part of the weTable, which uses Wii technology to create an interactive tabletop allowing participants to simultaneously visualize sea level rise and flooding scenarios while collaboratively identifying community assets and vulnerabilities. It works by projecting a map onto a tabletop surface; participants interact with the map using a light pen connected to a laptop via the Wii remote.

Whether it was their neighborhood, a key bridge or military installations, the University researchers wanted to know the priorities of the residents, as part of a demonstration project for the Hampton Roads Sea Level Rise Preparedness and Resilience Intergovernmental Pilot Project.

The Pilot Project is a two-year initiative to develop a "whole of government" and "whole of community" approach to sea level rise preparedness and resilience planning in Hampton Roads that can also be used as a template for other regions.

The "Building Resiliency in the Face of Sea Level Rise" demonstration project is supported in part by an $85,000 grant from the Blue Moon Fund.

"The community engagement piece is such an important part of any major undertaking like this, and it frequently is the last consideration, because approaches are frequently top-down," said Michelle Covi, assistant professor of practice for climate adaptation and resilience with Old Dominion and Virginia Sea Grant.

Covi is co-principal investigator of the project with Yusuf, Burton Saint John, associate professor and associate chair of the Department of Communication and Theatre Arts, and Carol Considine, associate professor of civil engineering technology.

The ODU faculty members are part of the university's new Resilience Collaborative, a consortium of scholars actively engaged in research, education and outreach on critical issues for resilience at the community, regional, national and global levels. As Resilience Fellows, they develop and conduct innovative projects that create and disseminate knowledge and influence decisions about resilience issues such as sea level rise and adaptation.

The demonstration project used the Action-Oriented Stakeholder Engagement for a Resilient Tomorrow (ASERT) framework, to facilitate discussion, knowledge and action to adapt to flooding and sea level rise.

The key aspect of the framework is the desire for two-way deliberative and participatory communication.

In addition to the community forums, which were attended by more than 40 residents, a survey has been distributed throughout Hampton Roads seeking feedback from community members about topics ranging from the urgency of action to the level of support for major infrastructure fixes.

The survey, which is active until July 15, can be taken through the following online link.

Researchers hope to collect most of the information within the next several months. They will then analyze it in an effort to paint a more comprehensive picture of the priorities of Hampton Roads residents when it comes to sea level rise resilience and adaptation.

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