By The American Shore & Beach Preservation Association
One of the terms we often hear when people are talking about restoration – whether it is marsh restoration or beach restoration – is “storm protection.”
In fact, such protection is the reason the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is in the beach restoration business. There are even formulas for calculating storm protection benefits from restoration projects.
Although the intention behind the term “storm protection” is spot-on, it may be a little too antiseptic to reflect the on-the-ground reality of what this effort is trying to achieve. Maybe a better term is “human misery prevention.”
Talk to the people who lost their homes in Super Storm Sandy about human misery. Not only is it “just” being homeless, it is hours spent on the phone or in lines talking to FEMA, insurance companies, community agencies, contractors and the like trying to get their lives back. Conversations about frustrating bureaucracy replace discussions about the kids’ ballgame.
Post-storm human misery? It means either living far away from home, because those are the only choices that are still standing, or living with friends or family in cramped conditions just hoping for the day you’ll be back in your own place with your own stuff – your “new” stuff, since your old stuff got washed away.
Perhaps you’re one of the lucky ones whose house is still standing and habitable. So you’ll be living in a house without electricity in a neighborhood where you are one of a small handful of remaining residents. Taking a shower means a drive to a friend’s house or to the gym. The idea of a hot bath is luxury too incredible to imagine. Driving anywhere is a challenge because of the debris.
Perhaps you’re temporarily out of a job because the business down the street where you work was destroyed in the storm – or, if it wasn’t destroyed, the devastated and deserted community it serves doesn’t have much call for whatever that business has to offer right now. Joblessness doesn’t just affect people on the coast, because in coastal communities employees may commute an hour inland. Businesses and employees from outside these communities suffer, too, because they provide goods and services for the coastal areas. Those businesses lucky enough to be open aren’t functioning because their employees are working with FEMA, insurance companies, etc.
Everyone always says, “Well, we are alive. It’s just stuff.” That keeps things in some perspective, and it’s an easy thing to say right after a storm strikes. But it’s not so easy to say to a small child who just wants to sleep with his beloved teddy bear (who’s nowhere to be found in the debris). Not so easy to say when the only photo of a special relative has vanished. Not so easy to say when your storm-struck community won’t really look like home for years and years to come, until things rebuild, regrow and return to “normal.”
Storm protection? How about “way of life protection”?
Nothing can prevent all storm damage, but three steps have been proven over and over to make a big difference:
1. Build wide beaches. The takeaway from every storm has been that wide beaches make a difference.
2. Maintain beach dunes. The dune height varies from area to area depending on the wave climate, but appropriate dunes act as a storm buffer. If there was ever doubt, Super Storm Sandy settled that very graphically.
3. Elevate buildings. If the storm surge can flow under the building, damage can be limited to replacing stairs – not entire structures.
Founded in 1926, the The American Shore & Beach Preservation Association (ASBPA) advocates for healthy coastlines by promoting the integration of science, policies and actions that maintain, protect and enhance the coasts of America. For more information on ASBPA, go to www.asbpa.org.