Community Knowledge Informs Coastal Resilience Efforts in NC DCM's RENA Process

Author: Monica Gregory, NOAA Coastal Management Fellow -

In 2016, NC Department of Environmental Quality’s Division of Coastal Management (DCM) commenced a five-year project to create a comprehensive resilience-building guide or online portal for coastal North Carolina. During the first two years of the process, I worked as a NOAA Coastal Management Fellow for DCM, building case studies through a pilot project called “Resilience Evaluations and Needs Assessments (RENA).” This pilot project focused on advancing the conversation on resiliency planning and creating a replicable planning process through surveying and interviews, asset mapping, community engagement, and flood-related modeling. I worked with five of North Carolina’s coastal communities – Edenton, Oriental, Pine Knoll Shores, Duck, and Hatteras Village – to create case studies which will inform DCM about common coastal hazards, common needs to address impacts from those hazards, best practices in community engagement, and next steps between DCM and its partners.

During the first part of the RENA project, town staff and local leaders mapped important community assets with DCM staff. Assets included government facilities such as town halls, critical facilities such as hospitals, recreation areas, and cultural resources. Town staff and local leaders had full control over the assets they wanted to include on their maps. In addition to mapping assets, town staff marked areas where they experienced drainage issues or repetitive flooding. Staff identified the source of flooding in many cases, be it from heavy precipitation, Nor’Easters, or past hurricanes.

The next step focused on facilitating community workshops. DCM, town staff, and local-level organizations encouraged residents from across each community to participate in asset mapping. The staff-created map served as the baseline during community workshops. Residents were able to verify, revise, and add to maps as well as record their knowledge of past and current flooding issues in their neighborhoods and towns. During the workshop process, DCM collected additional information, such as residents’ top concerns related to coastal hazards and stories related to flooding and other impacts. Finally, DCM and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) worked to put the asset maps online through TNC’s Coastal Resilience Mapping Tool so both staff and residents can visualize flood impacts to their most valued resources, pinpoint “hotspots,” or areas where they want to focus mitigation or adaptation projects, and communicate their needs to both residents and potential grant funders.

Five communities participated in the RENA process to varying degrees. The Towns of Edenton, Oriental, and Pine Knoll shores participated in asset mapping exercises with town staff and community workshops. The Town of Duck and Hatteras Village participated in asset mapping exercises with town staff or local leaders but did not hold community workshops. All five communities will receive a final report with results from surveying, asset mapping exercises, community workshops (where possible), recommendations from residents (where possible) and DCM, and funding opportunities. The final reports will be hosted on an in-progress web page on DCM’s website.

In the coming year, DCM is working directly with The Nature Conservancy, Sea Grant, and the Coastal Federation to better understand best practices that emerged from the process. The collaboration between DCM and its partners aims to expand the type of work done through the RENA process, as well as include practices from a process promoted by North Carolina Sea Grant, called Vulnerability, Consequences, and Adaption Planning Scenarios (VCAPs), that assists communities in a deep dive of assets or systems identified by town staff and residents. Communities participating in the pilot project will have continued access to expertise from DCM, TNC, Sea Grant, and the Coastal Federation, ranging from policy implementation to project identification to grant-writing assistance.

DCM hopes this process can be replicated or utilized to help other communities identify assets important to the town and residents for cultural, economic, and environmental reasons. With that information, town staff can identify areas to focus mitigation or adaptation efforts on, apply for grant funding with the data produced through the process, and begin implementing resilience practices in local ordinances, land use plans, or through other means. 

Monica Gregory worked at NC's Division of Coastal Management from 2016 - 2018. She now works as a Resiliency Coordinator for Miami-Dade County in Florida.Her core professional interests lie in urban and rural flood adaptation, community engagement, risk communications, and disaster planning and policy.


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