Hurrican Sandy and the Recovery of Bridgeport, Connecticut

Contributed by: Dr. Adam Whelchel, Director of Science for The Nature Conservancy in Connecticut

Coastal storms, flooding and sea level rise endanger millions of Americans, and threaten infrastructure, industry, protective ecosystems, tourism and trade. In the U.S., the heaviest rainfall events have gotten even heavier over the last 50 years (67% heavier in the Northeast), making communities more vulnerable to inland flooding and storm surge from extreme weather events such as Irene and Sandy. Without action to reduce these risks, the losses to local and national economies will only continue to increase. How do we balance safety and cost efficiency with respect for people, property and nature?

After living through Tropical Storm Irene, the 2011 Halloween Nor’easter and even a 2010 tornado, residents of Bridgeport—Connecticut’s most populous city—decided to better prepare for disasters.

Partnering with The Nature Conservancy and others, city leaders allowed TNC to facilitate and lead Climate Preparedness workshops in early 2012 to advance a community-driven dialogue on risk, choices, and actions. These workshops, that follow the Coastal Resilience Approach (link to Approach page), helped town planners and decision-makers to assess their area’s risks and vulnerabilities to storms and sea level rise, as well as take steps to plan for the future.

Later that year, Hurricane Sandy carried an unprecedented 11-foot storm surge – coupled with inland flooding – over vulnerable areas of the city.  One neighborhood, Seaside Park, was particularly hard hit. A few months prior this neighborhood with the help of the City, Yale University, and The Conservancy had installed a stormwater garden to capture runoff that otherwise would have gone into resident’s basements.  Hurricane Sandy was a further reminder to this Community that the resilience work they had begun should be accelerated and has motivated this neighborhood to do more and be better prepared for the next event. They know it is not a question of “if”, it is only “when”. But Bridgeport, at least, had a head start in identifying its risks, vulnerabilities and strengths. Using the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Roadmap for Adapting to Coastal Risk and The Nature Conservancy’s Coastal Resilience 2.0 tool and Risk Matrix, the city mapped exposure from projected flooding due to hurricanes combined with sea level rise, and prioritized actions to reduce risk.

Read more of Adam’s personal account of the days following Hurricane Sandy. Blog: Putting the Pieces Together After Sandy

Now, as residents rebuild after Sandy, Bridgeport and GBRC are working to enroll in the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Community Rating System, which offers private property owners a premium reduction through the National Flood Insurance Program in return for community-wide hazard Mitigation.

Building Resilience

  • 20 municipalities (coastal and inland) and five regional planning organizations are engaged via Coastal Resilience four step program, reaching 500,000 people
  • Six towns in the Greater Bridgeport area are in FEMA’s 2012 Community Resilience Innovation Challenge Program
  • State Statute has been modified to include definition of Sea Level Rise, define the rate of sea level rise and enable natural approaches to shoreline erosion control (i.e., “living shorelines” in statute)
  • State Statute modified to requires waste water treatment facility development or redevelopment to include sea level rise in design
  • NOAA is now incorporating The Conservancy’s Risk Matrix into their risk reduction tool- kit to better assist communities across the entirety of the nation’s coast.
  • Other city priorities include adjusting building codes and land use policy, incorporating nature-based solutions such as marsh advancement zones and natural infrastructure for managing storm water, and factoring climate change into redevelopment and infrastructure plans.

Related Stories:

Video: Coastal Resilience, a tool for planning in a changing world As sea levels rise, coastal communities in Connecticut, Long Island and even New York City become more vulnerable to storm surge flooding. Coastal Resilience can help our cities and towns plan for a changing coast.

Nature Conservancy Magazine: Lessons from the Long Island Express Climate change won’t have a simple solution. Rather, it’s a challenge that Nature Conservancy scientists are integrating into every decision they make.

Partners and their role: City of Bridgeport, CT and the Greater Bridgeport Regional Council (GBRC). The GBRC is really the regional hub organization for 6 municipalities centered on Bridgeport, (providing the convening function but not the governance function of a county structure).