Coastal Resilience Initiatives in Virginia

Sally Ann Sims
Posted on: 10/13/2021 - Updated on: 12/01/2021

Posted by

Rachel Gregg

Project Summary

To address increasing concerns about coastal climate impacts in the state, Virginia Sea Grant (VASG) supports interdisciplinary collaborations between municipalities, scientists, and other practitioners involved in adaptation efforts to build resilient communities and landscapes. In particular, VASG has developed decision support tools and knowledge exchange forums to help coastal Virginia stakeholders and practitioners identify climate change-related risks and opportunities for implementing adaptation options.


By 2015, the impacts of high-tide flooding had become very visible along Virginia’s coastline. The people of the Commonwealth of Virginia felt the state needed to take a larger role in addressing this issue for its residents rather than relying primarily on limited federal support and guidance. With funding from VASG and private foundation grants, the Resilience Adaptation Feasibility Tool (RAFT) was developed. Through RAFT, VASG helps coastal municipalities understand climate change risks and select options to address specific resilience-building needs. The RAFT framework includes: (1) developing a location-specific score to identify areas where communities can increase resilience to coastal storms, (2) developing a plan to prioritize potential responses through a workshop process, and (3) implementing the plan with assistance from the RAFT team.

To increase local capacity to address climate change, VASG also supports knowledge and technical exchange through its quarterly Hampton Roads Adaptation Forum and biannual Rotating Resilience Roundtables. Through these venues, participants share best adaptation practices among a variety of stakeholder groups and encourage collaboration for coastal resilience among the state’s institutions of higher education. The Forum and the Roundtables grew out of discussions that VASG staff had with local planning commissions and other universities that uncovered a need to build knowledge-sharing networks to keep planners and researchers in touch with rapidly-evolving science, monitoring, and other technological advances. These forums were also needed to promote coordination among planners and researchers to advance resilience-building initiatives in Virginia.


Resilience Adaptation Feasibility Tool
The RAFT is an interdisciplinary collaboration among the Old Dominion University-VASG Climate Adaptation and Resilience Program, the Virginia Coastal Policy Center at William and Mary Law School, and the University of Virginia’s Institute for Environmental Negotiation. The RAFT framework helps coastal communities improve resilience to climate change and coastal hazards while maintaining economic viability. The climate impacts addressed in this process include sea level rise, severe storms, high-tide flooding, and coastal erosion. The VASG Team works with municipalities and counties over 12–18 months to:

  • Create a Resilience Scorecard: A five-category scorecard is created to determine a total resilience score through an assessment of the area’s resilience to climate threats. Town leaders, planning district commissions, and documents are consulted for this phase of the process. A parcel-level GIS map is developed using sea level rise scenario guidance from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) flood maps, and storm surge maps. The VASG team ground truths the maps by consulting with local experts on infrastructure.
  • Conduct a Resilience-Building Options Workshop: After a scorecard is developed, the topic area in which the community scores the lowest becomes the basis of the resilience-building project. To focus the project, a workshop is held in which three to five resilience-building options are discussed. The community discusses projects that could be undertaken to address these areas and chooses a project to implement.
  • Support Resilience Building Project Implementation: With a priority resilience project identified, the VASG team helps the community find expertise and funding to implement the projects, tailoring their help to what the community needs to get the projects to the completion phase.

A yearly participant survey helps refine the RAFT program, including tailoring reports, website, tools, and workshops to better meet community needs. VASG also conducts outreach to communities to encourage participation in the RAFT Program.

Since 2015, the VASG Team has worked with the RAFT framework in three pilot localities and seven Eastern Shore localities in the state. A significant outcome for the City of Portsmouth was developing an ordinance for elevating buildings in their building code. The RAFT project has also developed additional outreach products, such as guidance on how to communicate flooding information and knowing your flood zones. A recent state Executive Order has also sparked action on adaptation by requiring that all state-owned buildings authorized for construction after January 1, 2021, be built above the freeboard standard in coastal and riverine floodplains and incorporating NOAA sea level rise projections into the state planning process.

Hampton Roads Adaptation Forum
Since late 2012, the Hampton Roads Adaptation Forum has brought together staff from local, state, and federal government agencies, researchers, engineers, and other stakeholders to exchange knowledge, share adaptation best practices, and coordinate regionally on climate adaptation issues. These quarterly meetings, sponsored through business partnerships, are planned and hosted by Old Dominion University-VASG and the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission. The forum has two main purposes. The first is to bring rapidly-evolving science and research on sea level rise and high-tide flooding to public policy decision-makers. The forum allows researchers and users to present their findings and answer questions on how to integrate the science into municipal applications. The second purpose is to provide an opportunity for dialogue and networking among information providers and users, including discussion of current research, the sharing of best practices among local government staff from different communities, and the identification of specific research needs in Hampton Roads that can be addressed by the regional academic community. Using information from the forum, local government staff have made recommendations to update comprehensive plans with sea level rise science and developed floodplain management ordinances to address increased flooding risks and recent regulatory changes.

Rotating Resilience Roundtables
The Rotating Resilience Roundtables encourages collaboration for coastal resilience among Virginia institutions of higher education. Meeting biannually since 2018, this forum is a collaboration between Old Dominion University and Virginia Tech. The roundtable format offers panel discussions, presentations, and small group discussions that attract 20–30 participants. These include academics from Virginia universities and also stakeholders and experts in disaster preparedness, engineering, and technology; planning district staff; and other stakeholders. Topics include changing ecosystems, resilience policy, flooding and the built environment, emergency management and adaptation equity, rural resilience, and managed retreat.

Outcomes and Conclusions

Through these three initiatives, VASG is working to support resilience in coastal Virginia. Looking ahead, VASG and collaborators would like to expand the RAFT to all coastal communities in the Chesapeake Bay; expand the Hampton Roads Adaptation Forum to a two-day format, incorporating a more technical component for practitioners; and increasing the number of participating higher education institutions in the Rotating Resilience Roundtables. VASG has found that communities often lack the staff, expertise, and resources to implement resilience projects on their own. Collectively, these programs help communities address resilience challenges and opportunities and help institutional practitioners, researchers, and decision-makers keep up with the rapidly advancing science and decision frameworks.


Sims, S.A. and R.M. Gregg (2021). Coastal Resilience Initiatives in Virginia [Case study on projects of Virginia Sea Grant and Old Dominion University]. Product of EcoAdapt’s State of Adaptation Program. Retrieved from CAKE: (Last updated October 2021) (Last updated October 2021)

Project Contact

Rhiannon Bezore
Coastal Resilience Outreach Coordinator
[email protected]  

Affiliated Organizations

Virginia Sea Grant (VASG) advances the resilience and sustainability of Virginia’s coastal and marine ecosystems and the communities that depend upon them. As a broker of scientific information, VASG works with resource managers, businesses, communities, and other stakeholders to provide and apply the best science available.

VASG funds and conducts research, outreach, and communications activities that focus on

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