On the evening of October 29, 2012, coastal residents along the Eastern Seaboard hunkered down inside community centers and shelters as Superstorm Sandy ripped through their towns and neighborhoods. The storm knocked down power lines, damaged homes, submerged entire communities, and left a trail of environmental and economic destruction. Sandy’s legacy was substantial; it killed 285 people and caused more than $70 billion in damage across eight states. Beyond the visible destruction, Sandy uncovered the limitations of traditional disaster management plans and sparked a movement to address coastal resilience and outdated infrastructure across the nation.
Four years after the storm, New Jersey communities are rebuilding with the next storm in mind, planning ahead to anticipate disasters before they occur and protect lives, infrastructure, and habitat. For example, the New Jersey-based Jacques Cousteau National Estuarine Research Reserve (JCNERR) promotes the responsible use and management of estuaries so these resources can continue to provide valuable ecosystem services, such as buffering storm surges and mitigating flooding.
These planning and rebuilding efforts are being aided by a powerful tool: data visualization. Tools such as GIS allow users to employ interactive maps to visualize potential risks to communities throughout the United States. A joint effort between JCNERR and Rutgers University produced the New Jersey Flood Mapper, a tool that illustrates sea level rise, social vulnerability, and susceptibility to flood events, while also pinpointing the location of green and gray infrastructure. The easy-to-use data aggregation platform is unique in its breadth—it can reach thousands of users instantaneously and effectively, making it a powerful tool for preparing for extreme weather events and other disasters.
New Jersey recognizes the central role communities play in anticipating disaster risk and developing innovative coastal resilience strategies. In response, the New Jersey Coastal Management Program created the Getting to Resilience tool, an online questionnaire to help vulnerable communities proactively plan for the effects of storm surges and coastal flooding.
One such community is South Toms River Borough, a residential community characterized by frequent flooding from a nearby river. After experiencing severe flooding during Sandy, JCNERR staff led the community through the Getting to Resilience planning process to help community leaders identify current vulnerabilities and inform future municipal planning.
Using community feedback and performance evaluation, the Getting to Resilience tool tracks the success of adaptation measures and improves site-specific recommendations. JCNERR has shown that communities can use data visualization tools to encourage resilience planning by fostering local relationships and providing a reliable source of scientific advice that enables local leaders to improve decision making.
Published in March, 2017, by the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative.