Planning Time Frames for Coastal Hazards and Sea Level Rise

Project Years: 2013

Lead Faculty: 

  • Dr. Robert Deyle, Professor, Department of Urban and Regional Planning, FSU
  • Dr. William Butler, Assistant Professor, Department of Urban and Regional Planning, FSU
  • Lindsay Stevens, Planner-In-Residence, Florida Planning and Development Lab, FSU

Prepared for: Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, Community Resilience Initiative


Mercedes in water on flooded street

Project Summary: 

Recent amendments to Chapter 163 of the Florida Statutes authorize local governments to designate “adaptation action areas” in the coastal elements of their comprehensive plans (Fla. Stat. ch. 163.3164(1) and 163.3177(6)(g)10). We recognize that communities are free to add elements, goals, objectives, and policies to their comprehensive plans without such explicit language, and that communities may wish to take a similar approach through other means, such as local ordinances. Therefore, for purposes of this briefing paper, we define “adaptation action areas” (AAAs) as follows:

  • Areas where existing or future human or natural resource assets are likely to be vulnerable to coastal flooding, erosion, and other harmful effects of rising sea level and where a community concludes that some form of adaptive action is needed to reduce vulnerability to those hazards.
  • Communities that choose to develop adaptation policies to enhance their resilience to the effects of sea level rise on coastal hazards through designation of AAAs should address four key questions regarding time frames as they design those policies:
    • For what time horizons, projection ranges, and hazard dimensions should we develop vulnerability assessments to determine risk associated with coastal hazards in the face of sea level rise?
    • For what time horizon(s) should our adaptation action areas and policies be developed?
    • How often should we review and revise the boundaries of the AAAs and the associated policies?
    • How and when should we collect information to support reviews to evaluate AAA boundaries and policies?

This document provides a rationale and supporting examples to assist local governments in making these determinations in an uncertain world of changing rates of sea level rise.

We base our analysis of planning time frames for coastal hazards sea level rise adaptation policies and action areas on five guiding principles:

  • Adaptive resilience is the goal toward which coastal communities should strive in planning for dealing with the effects of climate change on future coastal hazards;
  • Uncertainty about the unfolding of the impacts of climate change on coastal hazards, warrants an adaptive management approach to designing AAAs and policies and to implementing those policies;
  • AAA policies should be linked to other elements of comprehensive plans that influence the location of future development and infrastructure, such as the future land use, capital improvements, transportation, and infrastructure elements;
  • AAA policies should be grounded in an understanding of the community’s vulnerability to the impacts of climate change on sea level rise rates and tropical cyclone intensity; and
  • Time horizons and review intervals should facilitate adaptive management.

We expound upon these guiding principles as we articulate how local governments can develop responses to the above four questions, based on current literature and experience in planning for the effects of climate change on coastal hazards.

We begin our analysis of the choices that communities face by examining the environmental and social uncertainties associated with the future effects of climate change on coastal hazard dynamics. We suggest that communities should underpin their planning for adaptive resilience with such high levels of uncertainty through an adaptive management approach. Next, based on the thinking of planning scholars about comprehensive plan horizons and review intervals, as well as the state of practice in Florida and other states, we explore how to effectively integrate AAAs into comprehensive plans. We suggest a strong link to land use and infrastructure policies and firm grounding in a community’s projected exposure and vulnerability to the effects of climate change on coastal hazards. We also clarify that multiple time horizons are both a norm in practice and an effective way to ensure that appropriate time horizons can be defined for both plans and policies that have implications across spatial and temporal scales. We then lay out the specific issues local governments must confront in defining plan horizons and review time frames for coastal hazards sea level rise adaptation action areas and policies, drawing on our guiding principles in previous sections. We briefly describe the adaptive governance approach to planning for resilience in the face of uncertainty. Finally, we conclude by summarizing the choices local governments face in adopting and implementing adaptation action areas and policies.