UNC launches Coastal Resilience Center of Excellence


The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has launched a new Coastal Resilience Center of Excellence (CRC) that was made possible through a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate, Office of University Programs five-year, $20 million grant. The CRC initiative led by UNC-Chapel Hill will include collaboration with more than a dozen partner universities to address the unique challenges facing communities across the United States that are vulnerable to coastal hazards.

The CRC, which will receive an initial $3 million grant for its first operating year, is charged with helping to conduct research and education that directly addresses key challenges associated with growing coastal vulnerability. Specific examples include:

  • Developing more accurate storm surge models and timely delivery of accurate predictions of storm surge prior to storm land-fall.
  • Assisting the Federal Emergency Management Agency, states, and local governments in the development of better predictions of coastal hazards and pre-disaster plans.
  • Improving the understanding about why individuals choose to (or not to) implement risk-reduction measures at the household level and what risk-reduction measures they employ.
  • Improving the ability to communicate risk to multiple audiences and take action based on that understanding.
  • Educating the next generation of students that will become hazards researchers and practitioners, emphasizing the development of certificate and degree programs in minority-serving educational institutions.

During a press conference announcing the launch of the initiative, Congressman David E. Price (NC-04) said, “The Coastal Resilience Center will improve our readiness through groundbreaking multi-disciplinary research, the development of best practices, and the education of the next generation of researchers and policy makers. I am thrilled to help celebrate this grant and the continued expertise UNC-Chapel Hill provides to the Department of Homeland Security. I look forward to following the center’s important work for many more years.”

“Our nation’s university system is a constant source of innovation and fresh ideas where many of the best and brightest minds reside,” said Robert Griffin, DHS Deputy Under Secretary for Science and Technology, who also spoke at the CRC l press conference. “DHS Centers of Excellence are vital partners in our mission to develop solutions to some of the most complex and dangerous natural disasters that we face.”

The launch of the CRC expands on the existing UNC-Chapel Hill and Jackson State University co-led DHS Coastal Hazards Center work that started in 2008. The work done at the center has informed the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on operational decisions during recent hurricanes.

Critical to this effort is collaboration and partnership.

“We have partnerships that range from the West Coast to the East Coast, from the Gulf to the Great Lakes,” said. Rick Luettich, CRC principal investigator, a professor of marine sciences in UNC’s College of Arts and Sciences and the director of the Institute of Marine Sciences in Morehead City. “This is like a hub here in North Carolina, and the spokes go out from here to coastal locations across the U.S.”

Another critical goal of the CRC is educating the next generation of scholars and professionals working on the constantly changing subject of coastal hazards.

“The research that we’re getting and some of the knowledge that we’re developing is translating itself into undergraduate and graduate courses,” said Gavin Smith, CRC director and a research professor in city and regional planning in UNC’s College of Arts and Sciences. “We are educating another generation of students and future scholars that come through the program, preparing them for various careers in the field.”