Reducing Our Risk

Climate Central

Entry Overview

We live in a world where one ocean touches every shore, on every continent. The inevitability of sea level rise due to global warming is exposing citizens – from New Orleans to vulnerable Pacific Island nations – to uncharted waters. How will we meet one of the most existential challenges humans will face in the coming decades? Climate Central developed the Surging Seas Risk Finder web tool to help communities and planners better understand and visualize how populations, infrastructure, and assets are exposed to coastal flooding – and how sea level rise has already changed the game by increasing the odds of damaging coastal floods. We have raised awareness by the production of a tool designed to communicate the urgency that is already upon us. We have engaged a wide range of stakeholders from coastal planning officials to mayors to NGOs, and the coverage we have received in the media has enabled us to reach millions across the U.S. with information intended to motivate and support action toward a more secure future for all..

General Info
Email :;
Organization Address: 
1 Palmer Square
Princeton, New Jersey 08542
United States
Population Impacted: 
Millions in coastal communities across the US
Storm Surge
Identify the likelihood and frequency of this hazard : 
Coastal flooding from storm surge and sea level rise will only increase in the coming decades as oceans warm and glaciers melt. Climate Central’s Surging Seas Risk Finder web tool (SSRF) helps communities, planners, and leaders better understand these impacts. Our flood forecast module (see example in Solution section) projects the likelihood of floods at a range of sea level rise scenarios, depicting risk at a zip-searchable level for communities across the United States.
Explain how vulnerable the community is to this hazard: 
As we have seen from Superstorm Sandy, risks range from extreme, including loss of life and property damage to mild, such as nuisance flooding. But these risks will only increase over time. Surging Seas Risk Finder provides information to communities that include more than 100 demographic, economic, infrastructure and environmental variables using data drawn mainly from federal sources.
List the potential affects of this hazard: 
Coastal flooding and storm surge can cause injury and death, as well as extensive economic damage in heavily populated areas – as demonstrated in the aftermath of Sandy. They also can cause extensive contamination from sewage overflow and pose risks to infrastructure, such as power plants and transportation systems. In protected coastal areas across the country, fragile ecosystems can be destroyed in a matter of hours, wreaking havoc on habitats and breeding grounds of threatened species.
Identify how sensitive the community is to these affects: 
Some communities are more exposed and sensitive to flooding and storm surge than others. For example, communities in low-lying areas of southern Florida are sensitive to even 3 feet of storm surge whereas coastlines of other states are steeper or protected by natural ridges.
Preparedness Goal: 
SSRF provides critical information about sea level rise and coastal flood risk tailored exactly to where people live and work.
Implementing Actions: 

Ahead of the release of SSRF we conducted extensive research that generated a large amount of analysis. We designed our web tool in ways that could convey this new information publicly. With a state-by-state release strategy, we generated more than 700 stories in local and national media; and the tool has won use and praise at all levels of government – from small municipalities to the White House – and from a wide-ranging audience of NGOs, planning agencies and community leaders across the nation. Testimonials of our work include Jacqui Patterson, the NAACP’s Director of Environmental and Climate Justice who is planning a series of workshops with us in 2015 to engage NAACP leaders regarding the interconnected issues of flood risk, storm surge and sea level rise. Access to such critical information will provide African American communities impacted by coastal flooding and sea level rise with tools and images for communications and planning purposes. Frank Knapp, President & CEO of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce, is using our web tool in meetings with sea level rise task forces made up of local officials and small business owners from the cities of Beaufort and Charleston (local TV coverage: WSAV, WJCL). These task forces will use SSRF in their discovery and planning processes. SSRF features local sea level rise and flood risk projections, searchable interactive maps, “fast look” community reports (see example), data downloads, and screening-level exposure tabulations by zip codes, municipalities, counties, legislative districts, and more. Exposure assessments cover more than 100 demographic, economic, infrastructure and environmental variables using federal data sources. Maps are based primarily on elevation data supplied by NOAA. The web tool is listed on the White House Climate Data Initiative portal, NOAA's Digital Coast, and the US Climate Resilience Toolkit.

Describe Your Solution: 

We built this public web tool to help communities, planners, and leaders better understand coastal flood and sea level rise risks, including how sea level rise has already changed the game and is increasing the odds of damaging coastal floods. We have worked to raise awareness of these issues by conducting outreach to stakeholders and journalists. Since the launch of the Surging Seas Risk Finder, we have conducted 125 presentations to more than 1,500 state and municipal coastal planners, more than 50 NGOs, and more than 50 journalists across 20 U.S. coastal states via webinars, meetings, informational briefings, as well as participation and presentations in workshops and forums. Some examples of engagement include:

  • Presentation of our web tool and analysis to planners and practitioners along the coastline of Texas at resiliency forums held by the Texas General Land Office
  • Participation in a NOAA-organized Community of Practice meeting in Alabama which allowed stakeholders to interact with several visualization tools in a Tools Café setting
  • Participation in a workshop in Oakland, CA, organized by NOAA, The Nature Conservancy, Coravai, and various CA stakeholders, for sea level and coastal flooding web tool developers
  • Conducting a training workshop for planners at the Second Annual Cape Coastal Conference, Cape Cod, MA. What have our methodologies been? 
  • Production of state level reports (for example: Virginia) and web pages accompanied by media strategies as each report is ready, which have produced coverage in elite media as well as local/regional outlets
  • Trainings and webinars
  • Regular updates to improve user friendliness of the tool and data Since launching our web tool, city governments have used it for communications outreach (Boston), media groups have used it for communication/advocacy (MTV), various NGOs have cited the data behind our web tool in their reports (Union of Concerned Scientists), and organizations such as the CLEO institute in Florida are using Surging Seas in their climate leadership trainings. More than 250 organizations – from the federal agencies like the NIH to DC policy-think-tanks to media organizations to environmental justice groups – have downloaded our analysis data from our website.


Surging Seas Risk Finder:


Municipal and county planning offices have downloaded our analysis data to inform their planning decisions.


Environmental NGOs have downloaded data from our website for the purposes of their reports, communications, or advocacy.


Municipal and regional officials as well as NGOs and federal agencies have downloaded our data for their communications efforts.

What were the negative or unintended impacts (if any) associated with implementing this solution? : 

After we launched, planners asked us how the functions and features of our web tool compared to NOAA’s mapping tools and the growing number of web tools available online. We addressed this need for clarification by working with NOAA’s Office for Coastal Management and The Nature Conservancy to develop a web tool comparison matrix, which provides the planning community with an expandable chart for comparing the functions and methods of various sea level rise and coastal flood web tools for certain states. The Delaware Matrix, for example, includes national as well as state-specific web tools developed by the State of Delaware's Coastal Program. We will soon enable organizations to embed our matrices on their websites, and we will continue to add web tools for each state's matrix.

Return on Investment: How much did it cost to implement these activities? How do your results above compare to this investment?: 

This research supplies concrete visualization tools and information to help increase the urgency of addressing global warming impacts such as sea level rise. Indeed, the relatively abstract, diffuse, and distant nature of most climate threats, as science is able to portray them today, is widely recognized as a core problem for climate communication. Messages have generally failed to persuade powerful individuals, mass audiences or nations towards meaningful action to address this problem. Sea-level rise presents a clear and compelling mental model. Warmer temperatures melt ice; and melting ice swells the world’s one ocean touching every shore. SSRF brings these threats up close and personal, at both individual and institutional scales. Thus, it has become one of the flagship programs in Climate Central’s mission. Our investments over two years are approximately $1 million, thanks to generous funding from private philanthropists and foundations who share our vision of making a free web tool available that can be used by any individual, municipality or agency across the country to assess vulnerability, inform decision-making and motivate action.

What are the main factors needed to successfully replicate this solution elsewhere?: 

Since 2012, Climate Central’s sea level research, maps and timelines have won front-page coverage with more than 1,500 stories in local and national media; more than 10 million online page views; and wide-ranging use and recognition by NGOs and government. We have learned the value of repeated messaging to convey the urgency of planning and preparedness. We rely on our media success to make the public and decision makers aware of our tool’s capacity to support their planning efforts. We will release a national report in early 2015, which will bring renewed and widespread media attention to the tool and our efforts to inform the public and decision makers of its usefulness. Over the next two years, we will leverage our research by producing themed reports of special interest to diverse communities, e.g. analyses of risk by social vulnerability; race and ethnicity; contamination hazards; transportation; energy; real estate; protected lands; and critical facilities (hospitals, schools, colleges). Our intention is to keep the story fresh and drive the attention of the media and the public. We will hire an Extension Agent, whose job will be to conduct webinars and personalized trainings around the country, educating users in the tool’s many capabilities.

Contest Info
Contest Name: 
Reducing Our Risk

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