Proactive Management Strategies for Increasing Resilience at Coastal Industrial Facilities

July 22, 2021 – Amanda Shellenberger, Principal Enironmental Engineer, and David Templeton, Director of Shipyard and Waterfront Redevelopment

Damage to coastal industrial facilities caused by storms, floods, and extreme water levels has caught the attention of the news media, regulators, and public stakeholders. These events will only become more common as climate change increases the expected frequency and magnitude of coastal storms and sea level rise. Industrial facility managers need to go beyond emergency response plans and implement adaptive planning to proactively position assets and minimize vulnerabilities to achieve coastal resiliency. Given the existing tools available to predict the frequency and severity of these events, proactive planning and risk management can reduce downtime, minimize damage, and prevent future environmental issues.

Former manufactured gas plants, shipyards, refineries, docks, and terminals are among the coastal industrial facilities vulnerable to extreme water levels and to more frequent and stronger storms due to climate change.

Industrial Coastal Facilities Adapting to a Changing Climate

The ability of a coastal industrial facility to bounce back after extreme events such as coastal storms, flooding, and extreme water levels—rather than simply reacting to the impacts—is critical to achieving resilience. Supported by models that use the most recent climate change information to predict the frequency, timing, and magnitude of storms and floods, facility managers can visualize the local and regional impacts of sea level rise and extreme storm events to identify and prioritize their facilities’ potential vulnerabilities. In turn, this supports preparedness and mitigation efforts throughout the coastal zone. Although every region is unique and must be monitored to better understand how a facility can adapt, proactive planning and design aided by climate change modeling can help optimize and prioritize capital expenditures and minimize future maintenance costs.

Industrial facility management must be able to get a better handle on the potential vulnerabilities and risks confronting their facilities along the coastal zone.

Proactive Management to Achieve Resiliency

Managers of coastal and shoreline industrial infrastructure must continue to devise and implement innovative strategies to address the threats to their ongoing operations from climate change and its related environmental risks. A forward-thinking strategy equips management to execute mitigation plans to improve the likelihood of achieving resiliency objectives. Among the best practices to proactively manage climate risk are the following:

  1. Incorporate climate modeling into the planning process. Managers should utilize accurate climate change modeling to support their development of capital expenditure, emergency response, and resiliency plans.
  2. Identify potential vulnerabilities and risk exposures to prioritize capital improvement projects. The first priority for any coastal industrial facility is to maintain safe conditions and be positioned to return to full operational status as soon as possible after a major storm or flood. Project teams must also evaluate whether existing environmental remedies can withstand future extreme events. Industrial sites often face underlying challenges besides sea level rise and floods, such as the potential for rising groundwater. Key conditions are the state of groundwater resources, water quality, degree of saltwater intrusion due to climate change, and potential flooding from groundwater emergence.
  3. Consider future state and local regulations with regards to floodplain management. Constantly evolving, floodplain regulations and requirements are enforced to prevent future flood damages. It is important to understand which portions of a given industrial facility may be in future 100-year floodplain delineations.
  4. Identify and prioritize resiliency projects. While there is a spectrum of methods to approach coastal resiliency—including shoreline protection and living shorelines, innovative reuse practices such as beneficial reuse of dredged material, and infrastructure upgrades—each resiliency project should anticipate and prepare for likely future climate events based on its location. Incorporating risk management in the decision making process is important to prioritize projects that address the greatest risks.
  5. Foster effective collaborations with all stakeholders. Coordination with multiple levels of government and the stakeholder community can lead to environmental remediation projects that achieve multiple beneficial outcomes, including coastal resiliency.
  6. Establish a proactive permitting strategy to easily adapt to future industry challenges. The permitting process for industrial facilities can be both dynamic and lengthy, with numerous local, state, and federal approvals required for capital improvements, infrastructure maintenance, and ongoing operations including regulatory compliance. Comprehensive, long-term permitting strategies that consider multiple facility objectives and corporate sustainability and resiliency can streamline the authorization process.

Achieving resiliency can be challenging when developing long-range plans, meeting schedules, and maintaining infrastructure at the same time.

To go beyond emergency response plans, managers need to implement proactive strategies to achieve resiliency objectives. Preparing to address the full spectrum of threats to coastal facilities—including evaluating sea level change impacts and implementing appropriate shoreline protection to withstand future storm events—will benefit industrial operations and infrastructure in many ways over the long term. Ultimately, coastal facilities require adaptive planning to effectively position assets and minimize facilities’ vulnerability to climate change impacts throughout their region.



Amanda Shellenberger
Principal Environmental Engineer |

David Templeton
Director of Shipyard and Waterfront Redevelopment |