Bridging the gap between information and implementation for small and medium sized coastal communities in the Carolinas: Facilitating the creation of useful information

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Wednesday, 5 February 2014: 9:30 AM
Room C108 (The Georgia World Congress Center )
Jessica C. Whitehead, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC

In small and medium sized coastal communities in the Carolinas, a sizeable gap exists between the available information about weather and climate hazards and the actual use of this information by coastal stakeholders for operational decision-making. Since 2007, the South Carolina Sea Grant Consortium, North Carolina Sea Grant, and Carolinas Integrated Sciences and Assessments (CISA) program at the University of South Carolina have supported an active coastal climate extension program to attempt bridging this gap. Through informal needs assessments and pilot projects in communities, this climate extension program has produced several lessons learned about small and medium sized coastal communities' needs for weather and climate information. First, in many cases, “what information do you need about weather and climate?” is the often the wrong question to ask initially. Many community decision-makers are not familiar enough with the suite of available data to know what kind of information is accessible and how that information would need to be adapted for use at the local level. Second, for decision-makers to engage with the idea of using weather and climate information, it had to be clearly relevant to the management and decision-making contexts with which they were most familiar. For example, projects that discussed sea level rise generally did not generate enthusiasm and interest with communities, but projects that tied information about flooding and inundation to current infrastructure or planning challenges got a higher level of community partner acceptance and engagement. Finally, the most successful pilot projects involved a participatory component. In this phase community decision-makers reflected on weather and climate information presented and generated the community consequences implied by this data through discussion among themselves, rather than as part of the more formal scientific information presented by weather and climate experts. While these lessons learned are valuable, they still have not proven sufficient to produce sustained use of weather and climate information by small and medium sized community decision-makers in the Carolinas, suggesting that there are further individual and small group traits to be identified that encompass not only weather and climate data but also social and individual barriers to information appreciation and use. A new needs assessment process focusing on weather and climate hazards information in coastal decision-making in North Carolina is needed. This process will center on comparing the decisions which coastal stakeholders make with available weather and climate information to inform those decisions while also considering the barriers preventing such information from being accepted, understood, and put into action.