What does disaster prepping and coastal resiliency have in common? Quite a lot, actually.

As we enjoy these slightly shorter, slightly cooler days of late summer, now is a great time to think about being prepared! Also, September is National Preparedness Month. This year’s theme is “A Lasting Legacy,” emphasizing the fact that being prepared is one of the best things you can do to leave a lasting impact on those you care about.

Here in Washington, the same geologic features that make our state so breathtaking also pose a risk to our communities. From snow-capped volcanoes to fire-prone forests to tectonic plates that lift mountains and grind past one another just offshore, natural disasters are just a part of life in the wild, rugged Pacific Northwest, particularly if you live near the coast.

While we can reduce the likelihood of some disasters, such as wildfires and floods, by managing our land and our behaviors effectively, many of them are out of our control. We can’t stop tectonic plates from shifting, or a volcano from erupting. What we can control is how prepared we are when these events happen, and there are a lot of great resources out there to help you, your families, and your communities prepare, from the federal government’s Ready.gov site, to Washington Dept. of Health’s resource page, to King County’s Make It Through program.

Or let Disaster Ready Danny guide you on your preparedness journey:

Preparedness is for everyone and affects everything

When disaster strikes, it can impact every aspect of our lives, which is why so many groups play a part in this collective effort. Local, state, and federal agencies and organizations work together to conduct research, secure funding, create resources, educate the public, invest in infrastructure, develop warning systems, and more.

Preparedness is just one of the ways to make our communities more resilient. Some great examples of collaborative efforts to improve the resiliency of our coasts through science, outreach, and education, include the Washington Coastal Hazards Resilience Network, which is managed by Washington Sea Grant (who has a ton of resources on the subject) and the Dept. of Ecology. NANOOS, the Northwest Association of Networked Ocean Observing Systems, is a collaborative effort to make critical data accessible to the public – everything ranging from Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs), to oceanographic conditions, to tsunami risks. They’ve created the NVS Tsunami app that will send you alerts on earthquakes throughout the Pacific and whether they pose a risk to our coast. Washington DNR’s Geologic Survey has a ton of resources on geologic hazards, including this interactive web map.

Carrie Garrison-Laney, a Coastal Hazards Specialist for WA Sea Grant, recently presented at a South South Chapter meeting to talk about her research tracking tsunamis. One of the many things we learned is that A) we get a lot of tsunamis out here (when you look at the geological record), and B) they can come from a number of different sources – landslides, underwater volcanic eruptions, and several different kinds of earthquakes. Another big takeaway was that even those of us living in the relatively sheltered waters of Puget Sound are still at risk.

An example of at-risk coastal infrastructure along our coast

What we do at Surfrider

Many of the things we need to do to prepare for a natural disaster are the same measures we can take to ensure resilience in the face of change, and vice-versa – from improving infrastructure, to restoring habitats, to investing in our communities.

As one of the largest nonprofits focused specifically on the coast, Surfrider Foundation is constantly raising awareness about the threats to our shorelines and the need for coastal resiliency. Our dedicated network of volunteers regularly perform outreach, whether tabling at events or hosting presentations at their monthly meetings, such as the recent South Sound Chapter’s recent speaker on tsunamis. We help people envision what future sea level rise will look like through our king tide flights, and alert them of the threats that rising seas pose to coastal recreational activities like surfing. .

Surfrider staff across the country, including us here in Washington, serve on advisory councils and boards, leveraging our seats at the table to advocate for policies that address climate change and coastal resiliency, such as our Sea Level Rise Planning Now campaign, or for funding for agencies like NOAA that maintain monitoring networks and warning systems.

Every year, Surfrider publishes our annual State of the Beach Report, which grades each state’s coastlines from A-F based off of things like shoreline armoring, sea level rise planning, sediment management, and development. This resource is a tool for empowering citizens to work with decision makers and ensure their local communities properly manage coastlines and plan for sea level rise. Last year, Washington received a B. Not bad, but given the unique vulnerability of our coasts, we can and need to do better.

Finally, we try to shine a light on the people doing the hard work of proactively preparing for these changes. Some of the most powerful voices in this arena are the coastal tribes leading in these efforts, such as the Quileute Tribe’s Move to Higher Ground campaign, or the Quinault Indian Nation’s Taholah Village Relocation Project. These are two examples of what is often referred to as “managed retreat,” an extreme form of coastal adaptation to climate change, but one that many places will have little choice but to consider in the future.

We can all take some steps to ensure our communities prepare and adapt to coming changes, natural or man-made.

Whether all at once or slow and steady, the waters will rise – it’s up to us how we meet them.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash