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Vulnerable Water Infrastructure in Coastal Cities
A Community-Wide Public Health Risk Assessment of Vulnerable Water Infrastructure in Coastal Cities


coastal structuresCoastal infrastructure is becoming increasingly vulnerable to hazards including extreme precipitation events, stronger storm surge, riverine flooding and rising seas. Knowing that there is an intimate connection between infrastructure and public health, this is a timely opportunity to engage local communities in assessing the susceptibility of their most vulnerable populations to health risks. This project, funded by NOAA’s Coastal and Ocean Climate Applications program, aims to bring together diverse groups of decision makers to better understand the cascading public health impacts from water infrastructure vulnerability due to coastal hazards. A group of research partners from the Carolinas Integrated Sciences and Assessments, East Carolina University, North Carolina Sea Grant, Old Dominion University, Saint Louis University, and the South Carolina Sea Grant Consortium, is piloting this process in Charleston, SC and Morehead City, NC.

Focusing specifically on water and wastewater infrastructure, we are assessing vulnerability to extreme events and rising sea levels by identifying the populations most susceptible to public health risks from infrastructure failure. Using extensive engagement of municipal managers, health system managers, water utility specialists, health care experts, state agency managers and others in these two communities, we are developing a two-stage Susceptibility Index. In the first stage, vulnerabilities are calculated based on visual interpretation of inundation models. Then the participants work together to assess resilience endeavors currently in place at local hospitals, water utilities, and   municipalities. This Index is intended to be a straightforward, user-friendly tool that succinctly summarizes coastal threats and identifies gaps in mitigation for decision makers of varying backgrounds so they can assess susceptibility across a range of weather and climate events.


storm drainTo date, considerable progress has been made on the project. We have interviewed 17 stakeholders, including municipal managers, an epidemiologist, hospital PIOs, a water utility specialist, and other stakeholders in the infrastructure-health nexus to better understand their concerns and needs. These interviews have informed subsequent steps in the project, including the GIS-based inundation modeling and Susceptibility Index development. For both Charleston and Morehead City, GIS-based spatial analyses were conducted to characterize infrastructure vulnerability due to nuisance flooding, storm surge, and sea level rise. A draft Susceptibility Index was developed partially based on the Army Corps of Engineers Resilience Matrix, in which similar groups use the GIS analyses to determine the vulnerability and resilience of water, healthcare, municipal, and general population sectors within the two pilot communities. We hosted workshops in winter/spring 2017 in Charleston and Morehead City, where 22 and 18 attendees (respectively) used the Susceptibility Index and provided detailed feedback on its utility.


Next steps for this project include refining both the GIS analysis and the Susceptibility Index based on the feedback from workshop participants as well as developing a guidebook for transferability of this process to other coastal communities. We intend to host an exercise in each community to test the refined Susceptibility Index based on a specific coastal hazard scenario.


Last updated: 8/10/2017 1:56:58 PM
Vulnerable Water Infrastructure in Coastal Cities


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