A new National Research Council report calls for a national risk assessment to identify coastal areas that face the greatest threats from natural disasters and should be high priorities for risk-reduction efforts.

The report, released on July 23, says the U.S. lacks a unified national vision for reducing the impacts of natural disasters along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.

The risk assessment is needed because the current framework for addressing natural disasters and sea-level rise is disconnected and fragmented, the report's authors say.

To achieve a national vision, the report says the federal government should work with states to develop a national coastal risk assessment, along with objectives and metrics for risk reduction, to identify appropriate actions and measure progress. The assessment should include an inventory of present and future coastal conditions, especially in light of long-term sea-level rise.

Efforts to address risk along the nation’s coasts have been more reactive than proactive, the report concludes, with most of the funds for projects allocated only after disasters occur.

For example, between 2008 and 2012, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers received $498 million in regular appropriations for coastal storm-risk management. But, during that same period, the Corps received an additional $1.2 billion for coastal risk projects through emergency supplemental appropriations.

“Pre-disaster funding for mitigation, preparedness and planning is limited, and few regional evaluation of coastal risk have been performed to inform risk-reduction expenditures,” the report's authors write.

“There is a misalignment of risk, reward, resources and responsibility related to coastal risk management [that] has led to inefficiencies and inappropriate incentives that, ultimately, increase coastal risk,” says Richard A. Luettich Jr., professor of marine sciences at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and chair of the committee that wrote the report.

The report says a national perspective is needed to achieve the greatest benefits from federal investments and provide regional solutions, rather than piecemeal, project-by-project approaches.

Moreover, leadership at the federal level and consistent collaboration, with clear delineation of responsibilities for local, state and federal agencies, is needed, the report says. Currently, reponsibilities for coastal risk reduction are divided among federal, state and local agencies, with no central leadership or unified vision, according to the report.

“There is a crucial need for collaboration among federal agencies and between the federal government and the states, as well as policy changes that will help us evolve from a nation that is primarily reactive to coastal disasters into one that invests wisely in risk reduction and resilience,” Luettich says.

The study was sponsored by the Corps of Engineers.