Hazards Planning Center

Coastal Zone Management

Project Overview

APA and the Coastal States Organization (CSO), which represents the interests of governors from the 35 coastal states, commonwealths, and territories, are both current members of NOAA's Digital Coast Partnership.

Coastal Zone Management

PAS 581

NOAA's Coastal Services Center, creator of Digital Coast, sponsored a fellow to work with APA and CSO in producing a Coastal Zone Management PAS Report. The report examines the nature and extent of state technical assistance available to community planners and compares coastal management legislation across the U.S. The report also identifies best practices in the use of geospatial technology for managing coastal hazards, climate change threats, environmental quality, and other issues relevant to coastal zone management.

Project Background

In 1972 the Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA) created the National Coastal Zone Management (CZM) Program. The CZM Program allocates funds to the 35 coastal states and territories through specific programming areas ranging from enhancing public access to mitigating coastal hazards. The diverse coastal regions throughout the U.S. deeply vary in their priorities and use, from conservation to tourism to industry. While this report will outline the differences between various state strategies, it will also point to comparisons among coastal regions prioritizing similar uses.

Coastal zone management is continually becoming more complicated. Climate change effects — particularly sea level rise — threaten coastlines, and is a politically volatile topic. The PAS Report will explore the role of coastal zone management in adapting to and mitigating climate change, building off the CSO survey and report on sea level rise. Technology is important now, more than ever, to help manage these increasingly complex coastal regions.

In the findings from the 2010 APA Digital Coast Needs Assessment Survey of members working in coastal communities, the majority of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that there is strong support for geospatial technology within their organization (64 percent) and that their organizations are very aware of the capabilities of such technology (69 percent). However, only 28 percent of respondents agree or strongly agree that their organization provides/pays for all the needed training, and only 25 percent of respondents agree or strongly agree that their organization funds sufficient investment in geospatial technology. This disconnect between acknowledging geospatial technology as beneficial and actually supporting an investment in it will be explored in the PAS Report.

Geospatial technology is becoming more accessible and affordable. NOAA's Coastal Services Center and the Digital Coast Partnership offer a growing array of freely available online Digital Coast tools, resources, and training specific to coastal zone management. These tools will be directly incorporated into the report, in addition to best practices and case studies detailing the use of technology in coastal zone management.


The knowledge and skills necessary to effectively manage coastal zones are diverse and interdisciplinary. Many organizations — specifically geared towards coastal management, or not — do work and research helpful to coastal planners. Various programs and reports not only guide planners, but also build cooperation among many different agencies.

The knowledge and skills necessary to effectively manage coastal zones are diverse and interdisciplinary. Many organizations do work and research helpful to coastal planners. Various programs and reports not only guide planners, but also build cooperation among many different agencies.

Association of State Floodplain Managers (ASFPM)

This NOAA Digital Coast partner organization represents professionals involved in floodplain management, flood hazard mitigation, the National Flood Insurance Program, and flood preparedness, warning and recovery.

These professionals work in local, state and federal government, the research community, the insurance industry, and the fields of engineering, hydrologic forecasting, emergency response, water resources, and others.

ASFPM's Coastal No Adverse Impact (NAI) Handbook outlines a specific approach to land regulation. The NAI approach helps communities avoid lawsuits surrounding takings — governmental acquisitions of private property — by tightly binding regulations to the specific goal of preventing harm through performance-based standards. A community is more likely to be successfully sued for allowing improper development that causes harm than for prohibiting it.

Mitigation Misery: Land Use and Protection of Property Rights before the Next Big Flood offers an overview of the history of flood control in the U.S. and the corresponding law theories addressing public liability for flood damages, including the NAI approach.

Climate Adaptation Knowledge Exchange (CAKE)

An international online community for collaboration and ideas exchange, including case studies, literature, a discussion forum, and other resources for professionals working in climate adaptation.

Coastal States Organization (CSO)

Representing the 35 coastal states, commonwealths, and territories, CSO provides information, updates and alerts that keep states attuned to developments in Washington, D.C. CSO's updates enable states to respond to legislative, regulatory and policy developments as they occur to ensure the sound management of coastal, Great Lakes, and ocean resources. Work groups focus on coastal water quality, coastal hazards, coastal zone management, ocean policy, and island affairs.

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

According to FEMA, eight of the 10 most expensive historical natural disasters have been coastal storms. The agency provides assistance for coastal resilience, flooding, and storm recovery, such as Multi-Hazard Mitigation Planning guidance. The Coastal Flood Hazard Technical Resources page provides technical modeling and mapping applications, among other publications and information. Beneficial programs to coastal communities include — among many more — the Community Rating System offers incentives to communities for floodplain management activities that exceed minimum requirements for the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).

National Association of Counties (NACo)

This NOAA Digital Coast partner represents the nation's counties with a unified voice before the federal government. Additionally, NACo assists counties in finding and sharing innovative solutions through education and research, and provides value-added services to save counties and taxpayers money, such as its collaborative report Building Resilient Coastal Communities: Counties and the Digital Coast.

National Estuarine Research Reserve Association (NERRA)

This NOAA Digital Coast partner works to promote and advance the National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS). Twenty-eight reserves throughout the country are protected for long-term research, water-quality monitoring, education and coastal stewardship. With Congress, NOAA, and public and private partners, NERRA works to increase support for education, monitoring, research, and stewardship of our nation's estuaries and coasts.

National States Geographic Information Council (NSGIC)

This NOAA Digital Coast partner works to improve government efficacy and efficiency through the use of geospatial information technology. Members of NSGIC include senior state geographic information system (GIS) managers and coordinators, in addition to representatives from academia, federal agencies, local government, the private sector, and other professional organizations. NSGIC's GIS Inventory tracks state and local governments' data availability and status of geographic information system implementation.

NOAA Coastal and Waterfront Smart Growth

A website that describes coastal and waterfront-specific smart growth strategies for development, tools and techniques for implementation, and case studies. Website builds off of the Smart Growth for Coastal and Waterfront Communities guide and includes several links to resources for implementing these approaches.

NOAA Coastal Services Center

The center provides the technology, information, and management strategies used by local, state, and national organizations to address complex coastal issues. The center's core areas of expertise include geospatial technologies, training — such as a nine-module online course helping municipalities understand the Public Trust Doctrine — and social science. Products and services developed by the center include data, tools, training, and technical assistance. The Digital Coast, which was developed by the NOAA Coastal Services Center, is the delivery mechanism for many of the center's web-based products.

NOAA Coastal Planning Advisor

An interactive step-by-step through the coastal planning decision-making process: background study, plan development, alternatives, implementation, and evaluation. Customizable questions guide planners in specific areas of coastal planning, from energy facility siting to public access.

NOAA State of the Coast

Case studies and management success stories that highlight often complex connections across the four themes: coastal communities, coastal economy, coastal ecosystems, and the climate, including interactive visualizations of facts and detailed statistics.

NOAA-EPA Coastal Community Development Partnership

In 2011, EPA and NOAA signed a memorandum of agreement designed to enhance their efforts to help state and local governments create sustainable and resilient coastal and waterfront communities, protect healthy coastal ecosystems, restore degraded coastal ecosystems, and adapt to climate change. This partnership addresses community needs for training and technical assistance, scientific and technical information, and support for place-based projects. Further technical assistance opportunities are available through the EPA's Smart Growth Program.

National Sea Grant College Program

Network of 32 university-based programs that work with coastal communities, conducting scientific research, education, training, and extension projects designed to foster science-based decisions about the use and conservation of aquatic resources. Sea Grant activities concentrate on healthy coastal ecosystems, sustainable fisheries and aquaculture, environmental literacy and workforce development, and resilient communities and economies.

National Sea Grant Library

This digital library provides global access to over 22,000 full-text digital documents through a searchable publications database, with hardcopy loans available.

National Sea Grant Law Center

The Sea Grant Law and Policy Journal is an Open Access online journal that provides a forum for the timely analysis, discussion, and exploration of legal topics of relevance to the Sea Grant network of extension agents, researchers, coastal managers and users, and local decision-makers.

Ocean and Coastal Policy Center

Research center affiliated with the University of California which produces reports on biodiversity conservation policymaking, ecological restoration, marine ecosystem management and planning (with a focus on the National Marine Sanctuary Program), offshore oil and gas activities, place-based activism, and watershed planning and management.

Pew Research Center Environmental Initiatives' Ocean Science Division

Studies critical emerging issues, informs policy, and advances solutions to conservation problems through scientific research and technical analyses, synthesized in varying topics.

The Nature Conservancy (TNC)

This NOAA Digital Coast partner is one of the world's leading conservation organizations, working to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. As a Digital Coast partner, TNC is involved in such tools as the Coastal Resilience Decision-Support Framework, the Climate Wizard, and the MS-AL Habitat Mapper.

Urban Land Institute (ULI)

This NOAA Digital Coast partner is a nonprofit education and research institute on the use of land in order to enhance the total environment. Many ULI research centers intersect with coastal zone management, particularly the Climate, Land Use, and Energy (CLUE) Initiative. The report on the global policy and practice forum Risk and Resilience in Coastal Regions and the guide Ten Principles for Coastal Development are particularly helpful to coastal planners.

Data and Tools

Various networks provide opportunities for coastal planners to share data and information. Some resources are specific to certain geographies, while others span the entire country. Visualization tools, such as those available through the NOAA Digital Coast, are particularly helpful in analysis and communicating with the public.

Various networks provide opportunities for coastal planners to share data and information. Some resources are specific to certain geographies, while others span the entire country. Visualization tools are particularly helpful in analysis and communicating with the public.


From California's Public Interest Energy Research (PIER) program, Cal-Adapt displays climate change research through charts, graphs, and maps. Raw GIS data are also available for download.

Great Lakes Coastal Resilience

Science-based case studies, local stories, and climate and environmental research across key planning and management areas to educate about data, methods, policies, and tools that local governments are using to help make Great Lakes communities more resilient, including a repository of data, maps, and tools.

Digital Coast


Free and simpler alternative to the Adobe Suite for envisioning coastal change. Users can model potential development scenarios by inserting docks, buildings, rising waters, and other objects into photographs specific to their location

C-Cap Land Cover Atlas

Displays land cover changes from 1996 to 2006 using NOAA's remotely sensed imagery. Users visualize and explore observed land cover changes for their county or state and time frame of interest. This tool runs through the browser and can be used as a substitute for GIS analysis, but the raw data are also available for download.

Coastal County Snapshots

Turns complex NOAA data and research on flood exposure, ocean jobs, and wetland benefits into digestible charts, graphs, and narrative.

Habitat Priority Planner

Identifies high-priority areas for conservation, climate change adaptation, or restoration action. Users can change and display scenarios "on the fly," and resultant data tables, maps, and reports.

Hazards U.S. Multi-Hazard (HAZUS-MH)

A GIS-based software used to estimate potential damages and economic losses from earthquakes, floods, and hurricane winds, and floods. Developed and freely distributed by FEMA by request.

ISAT (Impervious Surface Analysis Tool)

A suite of scripts for the Spatial Analyst extension of ArcGIS, used to calculate the percentage of impervious surface area within user-selected geographic areas, such as watersheds, municipalities, and subdivisions.

Sea Level Rise and Coastal Flooding Impacts Viewer

Portrays sea level rise scenarios and potential impacts on a web-based map. Includes Social Vulnerability Index displaying differences in capacity for preparedness and response by census tract

Port Tomorrow

This tool provides information which shows port communities what to look for in resilient freight transportation infrastructure. This tool provides geospatial data within three resilience categories (marine transportation, port communities, and coastal hazards)

Spatial Trends in Coastal Economics Quick Report Tool

Economic and demographic information for coastal counties and other geographies through a map-based interface.

Ecosystem-Based Management Tools Network and Database

Methods, software and web tools for coastal-marine spatial planning and management decision makers, with an accompanying tools selection guide for coastal climate adaptation planning.

FEMA Map Service Center

Displays map-based flood hazard data through the browser, searchable by address.

Climate Wizard

NOAA Digital Coast Partner The Nature Conservancy's Climate Wizard is an interactive map representing the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's 4th Assessment data on changes in temperature and precipitation levels, searchable by three emission scenarios and 16 different models.

Great Lakes Information Network

Centralized location to acquire, distribute, and acquire geospatial data for areas within the Great Lakes region. Components include a data portal through which GIS and geospatial data for the Great Lakes can be published and acquired, and a gallery of downloadable images depicting Great Lakes geophysical data.

National Working Waterfront Network

Data, information, and tools to assist communities, individuals, and governments develop, inform, and enhance their sustainable working waterfront initiatives, through mechanisms such as a sustainable working waterfront toolkit and repository of financial resources, searchable by state.

Nonpoint Education for Municipal Officials (NEMO)

Information for local land use decision makers about protecting water quality as communities grow, including the National Low Impact Development Atlas

Northeast Regional Association of Coastal and Ocean Observing Systems

Large repository of real-time and historical monitoring data, and interactive web-based tools such as the Northeast Ocean Data Portal for Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning.

Mid-Atlantic Ocean Data Portal

Online toolkit and resource center that consolidates available data and enables state, federal and local users to visualize and analyze ocean resources and human use information such as fishing grounds, recreational areas, shipping lanes, habitat areas, and energy sites, among others.

Storm Smart Coasts

This portal connects coastal decision makers to learn and share information on how to protect their communities from weather and climate hazards. Alabama, Delaware, Florida, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Texas have existing networks, Connecticut, Maine, and New Jersey coming soon.


This curated list of guides outlines varied coastal planning techniques, with an emphasis on climate change strategies. Many outline a process for creating a general coastal zone management plan, and some delve into a specific element of coastal planning.

Adapting to Climate Change: A Planning Guide for State Coastal Managers

NOAA Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management

Adapting to Climate Change: A Planning Guide for State Coastal Managers — A Great Lakes Supplement

NOAA Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management

Adapting to Coastal Climate Change: A Guidebook for Development Planners

United States Agency for International Development

Climate-Related Funding Opportunities

NOAA Coastal Services Center Regional Staff

Coastal No Adverse Impact Handbook

Association of State Floodplain Managers and NOAA Coastal Services Center

Guidelines for Integrated Coastal Zone Management

The World Bank Environmentally Sustainable Development Studies and Monographs Series

Offshore Renewable Energy Regulatory Primer

National Sea Grant Law Center, University of Mississippi

Preparing for Climate Change: A Guidebook for Local, Regional, and State Governments

University of Washington and ICLEI–Local Governments for Sustainability

Protecting the Public Interest through the National Coastal Zone Management Program: How Coastal States and Territories Use No-Build Areas along Ocean and Great Lake Shorefronts

NOAA Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management

Smart Growth for Coastal and Waterfront Communities

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; Environmental Protection Agency; International City/County Management Association; Rhode Island Sea Grant

Synthesis of Adaptation Options for Coastal Areas

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Tools for Coastal Climate Adaptation Planning: A Guide for Selecting Tools to Assist with Ecosystem-Based Climate Planning

Ecosystem-Based Management Tools Network

Urban Planning Tools for Climate Change Mitigation

Lincoln Institute of Land Policy

Voluntary Step-by-Step Guide for Considering Potential Climate Change Effects on Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation Projects

Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation Program

Waterfront Revitalization for Small Cities

Oregon State University and University of Washington Sea Grant Program