Coastal Resilience Planning and Policy

There are many aspects to planning for coastal resilience and every community has a unique perspective and set of vulnerabilities. Successful planning requires an inter-disciplinary approach and willingness to partner and collaborate with others. Some amazing efforts are ongoing in North Carolina and across the country adding to the lessons learned. However, taking those lessons and applying them in a given community is easier said than done. Explore the resources below from DCM and others for best management practices to help inspire and guide your community or region's work. Know that a number of established processes and self-assessment checklists can be found on Tools page which may provide a clearer direction of what issue areas to focus on.

DCM Community Coastal Resilience Pilot Project

Learn how DCM's NOAA Coastal Management fellow worked with partners to assist five local governments in conducting Resilience Evaluation and Needs Assessments (RENAs), including Town of Duck, Town of Edenton, Hatteras Village, Town of Oriental, and the Town of Pine Knoll Shores. 

  • View the Story Map introducing what coastal resilience means for the five pilot communities. 

Planning & Policy Topics

Tab/Accordion Items

A community's comprehensive plan (sometimes referred to as land use or general plan) is the primary set of information and policies that guide the delicate balancing of the three-legged stool of a thriving community: social systems, the economy, and the natural environment. A comprehensive plan's broad overarching framework and the ability to set a community-wide vision for the future translates well for integrating the similarly multi-disciplinary issues of natural hazards resilience and climate adaptation. As comprehensive plans touch on multiple issues such as transportation, affordable housing, economic development and environmental protection, so too are those issues directly impacted by natural hazards. 

Communities are finding ways to better connect other goals of hazard mitigation, disaster recovery, sustainability and climate change adaptation into their comprehensive plan fact base, stakeholder engagement processes, and policies, all of which are crucial for enacting ordinances, regulations, and incentive programs that help build resilience.

Updated Coastal Area Management Act (CAMA) Comprehensive/Land Use Planning Guidance

  • *Coming Soon* - Disaster Recovery and Resilience Element: Explore recommendations and resources for incorporating a 'disaster recovery and resilience' element to your community's comprehensive plan and how it overlaps with other elements.

Safe Growth Audit

General Best Practices

  • APA Sustaining Places: Best Practices for Comprehensive Plans (2015): Explore how the intersection of sustainability, adaptation and resilience can help create a meaningful comprehensive plan. Six key principles described include: livable built environment; harmony with nature; resilient economy; interwoven equity; health community; responsible regionalism
  • FEMA Integrating Hazard Mitigation Into Local Planning (2013): Learn about the opportunities and benefits of integrating hazard mitigation goals into local plans policies, regulations and programs, the potential barriers and solutions of the task, and a series of case studies and fact sheets to facilitate the process. 


    Hazard mitigation activities, which are those that aim to reduce interruption to services and damage to or destruction of life, property and the environment, can and should occur well before an event. They also need to be the cornerstone for strategies pursued and investments made during the short- and long-term disaster recovery period (months to years). The great value of planning for a disaster beforehand is the resulting improvement of communication, response time, and utilization of funding and other disaster recovery resources.

    The North Carolina Emergency Management Division (EMD) is the state agency primarily responsible for implementing emergency preparedness, response, and recovery functions for disasters, including many of the hazard mitigation and recovery grant programs as well as the floodplain mapping program. DCM works with NC EMD and other partners to provide relevant data and information to local governments in order to build resilience.

    The two concepts of hazard mitigation and disaster recovery go hand in hand. When coordinated and paired with an inclusive stakeholder engagement process, the outcome is a more informed, prepared, and resilient community. 

    Hazard Mitigation

    State Hazard Mitigation Office and Flood Mitigation:

    Enhance the Process:

    Brainstorm Actions:

    • FEMA Mitigation Ideas List (2013): explore a variety of mitigation action types (e.g., planning and regulations, structure and infrastructure, natural systems protection. education and awareness) for different hazards.

    Disaster Recovery

    For information specific to disaster recovery assistance and timelines, communities should refer to the North Carolina Emergency Management (NCEM) sites for MatthewFlorence, and Rebuild NC as well as the FEMA website for Florence. Local governments can also find useful resources on NCEM's Hurricane Florence microsite hosted by the UNC School of Government.

    Flooding is North Carolina's most common and costly natural hazard threat. With the rich history of flooding events from hurricanes and other events, a number of lessons have been learned and programs like the Community Rating System (CRS) incentivize smarter actions by local governments while reducing flood insurance premiums for residents.

    Floodplain and Stormwater Management Resources

    FEMA Community Rating System (CRS) Resources

    Example: Building Back Better & Reducing Flood Insurance Costs

    Building Back Better & Reducing Flood Insurance CostsSource: Federal Emergency Management Agency

    Population characteristics like household income, age, unemployment rate, race and ethnicity and percent of renters can have major effects on how well a community can prepare for, respond to, and recovery from environmental hazards. To truly build community resilience, these socially vulnerable groups must be identified and accounted for in public engagement processes, policy creation, and funding activities. Learn more below about how to measure these characteristics and how to apply them in planning efforts.


    Applying the information:

    Many communities are going beyond traditional hazard mitigation or sustainability plans and focusing more specifically on their climate risks and vulnerabilities. Establishing a clear fact base and set of policy solutions to deal with the uncertainty of climate impacts is crucial for advancing long-term resilience.

    State-wide Climate Change Initiatives:

    Guides and Toolkits:

    • UNC's Adapting to Climate Change: A Handbook for Local Governments (2013): provides local governments with information on how climate change might impact their communities, along with strategies that can be implemented to address the changing nature of those threats.
    • Georgetown Climate Center's Sea Level Rise Adaptation Toolkit (2011): provides local and state governments and their citizens with practical knowledge to help adapt to sea-level rise in a prudent and balanced manner. The Tool Kit offers a menu of generally used legal devices that can reduce future harms, though not all approaches mentioned are applicable to local governments in North Carolina.

    Partnership efforts:

    • NC Sea Grant Coastal Hazards: There are several extension specialists that are knowledgeable in community hazard assessment and facilitation, coastal construction, natural resources, and floodplain restoration that can assist with adaptation efforts.
    • Southeast and Caribbean Climate Community of Practice (SCCCOP): This organization brings together individuals from local, state, and federal governments, academia, non-profit organizations and the private sector to apply climate science and assess how coastal communities and ecosystems can adapt to the impacts of climate variability and change

    National Databases and Perspectives:

    Oceanfront Shoreline Management

    Case Study Highlight
    • Bogue Banks Beach Master Nourishment Plan (2018): the Carteret County Shoreline Protection Office has developed a 50-year plan for beach nourishment covering a region of several municipalities along the roughly 25-mile barrier island. Learn more about the shoreline preservation plans and activities.
      • Funded in part by the county's occupancy tax and municipal special property tax, along with FEMA reimbursement post-storm, their approach is considered successful because it accomplishes many objectives:
        • Plan regionally for multiple jurisdictions
        • Facilitate the permitting, authorization, and scheduling of shoreline nourishment/maintenance
        • Balance the protection of the tourism industry, state and local infrastructure and oceanfront or adjacent structures
        • Maintain natural resources and associated recreational uses while avoiding and minimizing adverse environmental impacts
        • Consolidate individual town and county resources in a more cost and logistically effective way

    Estuarine Shoreline Management

    For decades, installing hardened structures like bulkheads have been used to protect private property from estuarine shoreline erosion. More recently, the use of natural or nature-based solutions, such as living shorelines, has proven to be another potentially effective and more resilient option for combating erosion where feasible. Explore the examples and resources below to learn how and where different estuarine shoreline management approaches are being used. 

    • Estuarine Shoreline Stabilizations Options (NC DCM): learn the basic options, including land planning, vegetation control, marsh toe protection revetments, sheet pile and marsh sills or living shorelines, groins, breakwaters, riprap revetments and bulkheads.
    Climate Change Impacts to Estuaries:

    Source: Systems Approach to Geomorphic Engineering, NOAA, and USACE, 2015


    Taking actions to build resilience requires creative thinking and solutions, but they must be allowed and supported by existing laws and statutes. Below, communities can explore reports and relevant legal authorities and enabling legislation that support various policy and planning tools.

    Reports and Analyses

    State Legislation & Provisions

    Updated December 2018. North Carolina General Statues and North Carolina Administrative Codes may have changed. Note: this list does not contain all possible enabling legislation that may contribute to coastal resilience.

    Topic and Description Statute or Legislation and Relevant Language

    Shoreline Erosion

    Policy statements on effective shoreline erosion strategies


    15A NCAC 07M.0202

    07M.0202 (b) "Preferred response measures for shoreline erosion include but shall not be limited to AEC rules, land use planning and land classification, the establishment of building setback lines, building relocation, subdivision regulations and management of vegetation"; (c) "The replenishment of sand on ocean beaches can provide storm protection and a viable alternative to allowing the ocean shoreline to migrate landward threatening to degrade public beaches and cause the loss of public facilities and private property...."

    Ocean Erosion Control Structures

    'Erosion control structures' could include bulkheads, jetties, groins, revetment, seawall, sandbags, or similar structure.

    §G.S. 113A-115.1 Limitations on erosion control structures

    113A-115.1.(b) "no person shall construct permanent erosion control structure in an ocean shoreline...[and] shall not permit construction of temporary erosion control structure that consists of anything other than sandbags in an ocean shoreline"

    • Exceptions: 113-115.1(b)(1) "any permanent erosion control structure that is approved pursuant to an exception.... adopted by Commission prior to July 1, 2003";(2) "...originally constructed prior to July 1, 1974 that has since been in continuous use to protect an inlet... maintained for navigation"; or (3) "any terminal groin permitted pursuant to this section".

    Sea Level Rise Projections

    Local government entities are not prohibited from defining their own rates of sea level change

    §113A-107.1 Sea-level policy

    113A-107.1(c) "Nothing in this section shall be construed to prohibit a county, municipality, or other local government entity from defining rates of sea-level change for regulatory purposes."

    Zoning and Unified Development Ordinances (UDOs)

    Local governments can determine how and where they build through zoning and development regulation ordinances or a UDO that combines all ordinances with options to build resilience by limiting density or intense uses in known high-hazards areas.

    §G.S. 160A-381. (City) & §G.S.153-340. (County): Zoning - Grant of Power

    § 160A381(a) (City) & [§153-340 (county)(a)]."For the purpose of promoting health, safety, morals, or the general welfare of the community, any city [a county] may adopt zoning and development regulation ordinances. These ordinances may be adopted as part of a unified development ordinance or as a separate ordinance. A zoning ordinance may regulate and restrict the height, number of stories and size of buildings and other structures, the percentage of lots that may be occupied, the size of yards, courts and other open spaces, the density of population, the location and use of buildings, structures and land.."

    Special Service Districts

    Local governments can create special service districts to generate funds through added property taxes to finance, provide, or maintain a certain service, facility, or function such as watershed or stormwater management.

    §G.S. 160A-536. (City) & §G.S. 153A-301. (County) Purposes for which districts may be established

    §160A-536.(a) & [153A-301(a)]: "The city council of any city [or the board of commissioners of any county] may define any number of service districts in order to finance, provide, or maintain for the districts one or more of the following services, facilities and functions ..." "...: (1) Beach erosion control and flood and hurricane protection works. (2) Fire protection. (3) Recreation. (4) Sewage collection and disposal systems of all types, including septic tank systems or other on-site collection or disposal facilities or systems. (5) Solid waste collection and disposal systems. (6) Water supply and distribution systems. (7) Ambulance and rescue. (8) Watershed improvement projects, ...." ".... (9) Cemeteries. (10) Law enforcement ...."

    Building Requirements

    All buildings must meet N.C. State Building Code requirements, but local governments can adopt Flood Damage Prevention Ordinances to regulate development in the floodplain that accounts for current and future risks (e.g., higher freeboard)

    §G.S. 143-138. North Carolina State Building Code 

    143-138.(e) "...the North Carolina State Building Code shall apply throughout the State... However, any political subdivision of the State may adopt a fire prevention code and floodplain management regulations within its jurisdiction ... Local floodplain regulations may regulate all types and uses of buildings or structures located in flood hazard areas identified by local, State, and federal agencies, and G.S. 143-138 Page 10 include provisions governing substantial improvements, substantial damage, cumulative substantial improvements, lowest floor elevation, protection of mechanical and electrical systems, foundation construction, anchorage, acceptable flood resistant materials, and other measures the political subdivision deems necessary considering the characteristics of its flood hazards and vulnerability."

    Stormwater Programs

    Local governments can establish stormwater utilities or programs to collect stormwater fees related to the development and square feet of impervious surface which can fund stormwater management activities

    § 143-214.7. Stormwater runoff rules and programs.

    § 143-214.7.(c)."Model stormwater management programs shall be developed to protect existing water uses and assure compliance with water quality standards and classifications. A State agency or unit of local government may submit to the Commission for its approval a stormwater control program for implementation within its jurisdiction. To this end, State agencies may adopt rules, and units of local government are authorized to adopt ordinances and regulations necessary to establish and enforce stormwater control programs. Units of local government are authorized to create or designate agencies or subdivisions to administer and enforce the programs. Two or more units of local government are authorized to establish a joint program and to enter into any agreements that are necessary for the proper administration and enforcement of the program."