Skip to content (press enter)
A black and white image of the Astoria bridge over the Columubia; Photo by Chris King on Unsplash


Navigating Coastal Hazards in the PNW

As the climate continues to warm, the seas continue to rise, and storms grow in frequency and severity, we have to view all the work we do through the lens of climate change and coastal resiliency. Here in Washington, our coastlines are particularly vulnerable not only to changing ocean conditions, but the ever-present threat of tsunamis, and, increasingly, wildfires. Managing these threats is complex, to say the least. Between the confusing mosaic of land ownership, multi-agency permitting, local priorities and values, socioeconomic landscapes, data availability, access to accurate oceanographic forecasting, and more, it takes a proactive and collaborative approach to address these issues on a regional scale.

Two screens displaying the conference title slide "Navigating Coastal Hazards Workshop"

This is why the Cascadia Coastlines and Peoples Hazards Research Hub (CoPes Hub) recently convened a two-day workshop in Astoria focused on Navigating Coastal Hazards in the PNW (CoPes is “a team of researchers funded by the National Science Foundation to increase knowledge about natural hazards and climate change risks coastal communities face and ways to increase their resilience”). I recently had the privilege of attending this workshop, and it was jam-packed with the latest science and research as well as numerous opportunities to brainstorm with researchers, agencies, and decision-makers to prioritize future research, funding, and solutions going forward.


Understanding Coastal Hazards

The meeting kicked off with a poster session. If you’ve ever had the joys of presenting as a student at a conference, you know that the poster session is often crammed at the end of a busy day, when people’s brains are full and their energy is low. The result is that few people stop to look at your work, let alone ask questions about it. So this was a refreshing change that allowed us to socialize and peruse the latest research before all the discussions, and we launched into the workshop much more informed about the types of work being conducted across the region.

The poster session was followed by a Coastal Community Panel, a series of short presentations from leaders at different Tribes, organizations, agencies, and community groups highlighting the ways they’re working to enhance coastal resilience in their communities. This included members from the Shoalwater Bay Tribe describing their journey from trying to protect in place to strategic relocation of vital infrastructure as well as the construction of a vertical evacuation tower. That was followed by the presentation “Todos Preparados” on culturally responsive emergency preparedness for Hispanic/Latinx communities, which identified barriers to participation in emergency preparedness ranging from needing resources in other languages, to things like providing dinner or child care to facilitate people’s ability to attend workshops and engage in community preparedness.

City of Westport presentation slide on severe storms and king tides City of Westport Administrator Kevin Goodrich explains the myriad coastal threats his city must manage, including tsunami, king tides, sea level rise, storms, wildfires, and coastal erosion

Kevin Goodrich, City Administrator for Westport, talked about the myriad ways the city is working not only to spread awareness and enhance resiliency in his town, from vertical evacuation structures to student engagement, but also how to find ways to scale that out to other coastal communities (check out the recent report Making Waves: Sea Level Rise Engagement in the City of Westport). The session ended with a presentation on A Queer Approach To Research Partnerships, which emphasized how critical it is that emergency managers and agencies recognize that community members are the experts in their needs and that working with them is vital to protect the very groups that have been traditionally marginalized.

After the community panel, a series of lightning talks highlighted all the research going into these issues, as well as several small group discussions


Community Resilience and Preparedness

One of the key takeaways from the workshop was the importance of community in disaster preparedness and enhancing coastal resilience. It doesn’t matter how many plans we develop, how many data we collect, or how many reports we publish, very little will actually get done if there aren’t robust, engaged communities to take action. Outreach and education are critical - people need to be informed about the risks their communities face and the resources available to them. But just as critically, agencies need to be informed about the unique needs and challenges of different community groups and find ways to engage them on their own terms.

A surfrider logo in the forefront of a filled conference hall

The other common theme was communication and collaboration - as with any human endeavor, the need for streamlined, effective communication between all the different entities involved is a necessary challenge. Agencies are siloed. People are busy. Time is finite and nonrenewable. It’s imperative that we find creative and effective ways to talk to each other.

A final takeaway was the emphasis on the need for collaborative solutions to address coastal hazards. The issues affecting our coasts are complex, and these challenges are made more so by limited resources, competing priorities, and complicated policy landscapes. In Washington, most of our coastal communities lack the funding and capacity to implement the widescale and costly measures needed to mitigate the threats of a changing climate, especially when these threats are ‘in the future,’ when there are often more urgent matters to address on any given day. But by harnessing our collective expertise and resources, we can develop a holistic and inclusive approach to coastal management that prioritizes safety, sustainability, and conservation.

A hand written diagram demonstrating the complexity of coastal resiliency A not-so-simple diagram mapping the complex challenges of managing coastal resilience

Some good news on that front is last year’s dual Coast & Climate victories that included mandated sea level rise planning as well as a budget proviso that will expand data analysis to assess site scale vulnerabilities within coastal communities, deliver coordinated state-level technical assistance, and increase local capacity to design and implement on-the-ground projects. These victories are one of the reasons Washington State was recently bumped from a B to an A in our 2023 State of the Beach Report!

By fostering a culture of collaboration and preparedness within and between our communities, we can minimize the risk of ongoing climate threats and ensure swift, effective responses in times of crisis.

A view from the conference venue of Astoria's shoreline with grassy field in the foregroundA room with a view - this workshop took place in the coastal town of Astoria